The Islamic State social media accounts posted gruesome pictures of the group’s execution of a two men in Mosul, Iraq accused of being gay. The pictures show the men being pushed off a tall building. On-lookers can be seen waiting below to watch the spectacle in a public square.
The photos were uploaded to the site "justpaste.it" and circulated on social media accounts associated with the Islamic State. The carefully composed, high-resolution images were uploaded to an account called the “Information Office of the Mandate of Nineveh,” a reference to the Islamic State’s control over the Nineveh province in Iraq.
One photo shows a jihadist clad in a black face mask reading the verdict of the sharia court, while yet another shows the man about to be executed being held by his executioner with a caption saying the man had committed an offense like the “people of Lot” (a reference to homosexuality) and that his punishment was being meted out according to the “hadd” or fixed punishments as specified in the Quran. Another shows a woman being to death stoned for the crime of adultery.
A “hadd” prohibition (hudud in plural) is an offense considered to be a crime against God for which punishments are fixed in sharia (Islamic) law. There are six hudud crimes mentioned in the Quran: theft (for which the punishment is amputation of the hand), illicit sexual relations (punishable by stoning to death or 100 lashes), apostasy (punishable by death), making unproven accusations of illicit sexual relations (80 lashes), drinking alcohol (80 lashes) and highway robbery (death).
The executions came at the same time as a spate of crucifixions by Islamist State militants in Syria. Over a two-day period, 17 young men accused of opposing the rule of the brutal Islamist group were reported shot after which they were crucified for three days. The crucifixions were reported to be in retaliation for recent assassinations of Islamic State fighters by local populations.
"ISIS [the Islamic State] is sending a message to all people living under its control, to say: 'This is what will happen to any opponent,'" the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The crucified included a young man from Raqqa, the de-facto headquarters of the Islamic State, for an offense as minor as taking a picture of an Islamic State fighter and posting it on Facebook, according to the observatory.
Another young university student, originally arrested for smoking, was accused of being an informant for the Syrian government. He was also subsequently shot and crucified.
Others who were crucified included five members of the Shaitat tribe, which staged an uprising against the Islamic State in Deir Ezzor's Abu Hamam in Syria. The uprising was put down by the Islamic State after three days in a fierce fight that left an estimated 900 people killed.
Despite U.S. airstrikes, a new map released by the Coalition for a Democratic Syria shows that the Islamic State controls close to twice as much land in Syria as it controlled last summer.
“Assessing the map, ISIS has almost doubled its territorial control in Syria. But more importantly, the number of people who now live under ISIS control has also increased substantially,” said the coalition’s political adviser Mouaz Moustafa speaking to The Daily Beast.
Analysts say that the American strikes have mainly focused on Iraq, which is the coalition’s first priority. "We very much see ISIL [ISIS] largely in a defensive posture inside Iraq, that whatever momentum they had been enjoying has been halted. That has stayed steady over the last couple of weeks,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.
However, strikes continue to be carried out in Kobani, where Islamic State forces have been unable to conquer the Syrian city.
Meanwhile, European cities have markedly stepped up security for fear of attacks by Islamic State sleeper cells or returning jihadists. After a raid by counterterrorism police in Belgium on Friday that left two terror suspects dead, police and army have been called upon in Belgium to guard Jewish and police venues, among other sites deemed vulnerable to attacks.
Belgium officials say that the raid in a building in the city of Verveirs was against a terror cell that was planning a major attack in the coming “hours” or “weeks” in Belgium (and possibly the Netherlands) in retaliation for coalition forces conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
"This was in the framework of an operation looking into an operational cell made up of people, some of whom came back from Syria," an official said. "The investigation made it possible to determine that the group was about to carry out major terrorist attacks in Belgium."
Based on a Western intelligence source, CNN reported that the terror threat, which was called “imminent” in Belgium and possibly the Netherlands, involved 20 sleeper cells of between 120 to 180 jihadis ready to strike as well in France and Germany.
In the UK, local media announced that following the Islamist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as well as the counterterrorism operation in Belgium, Britain was on a “beheading alert” and that security had been “dramatically stepped up” for police officers, Jewish schools and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
Police in the UK fear “copycat” attacks mimicking those that recently struck France.