2004: Ken Bigley, Iraq War hostage

Add comment October 7th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 2004, the British civil engineer turned hostage Kenneth Bigley was executed by his captors in one of the Iraq War‘s ghastly beheading videos.

Bigley was kidnapped on September 16 along with two American roommates from their shared house in the Mansour district; the whole trio was employed by a Kuwaiti contractor on construction projects in U.S.-occupied Baghdad.

The Zarqawi-led terrorist group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad issued immediate demands on these three men’s lives for the release of women prisoners held by Iraq’s occupiers, and released videos of the beheadings of the Americans, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, when those demands went unanswered.

Bigley’s situation dragged on much longer, and embroiled Tony Blair’s British government in a damaging political spectacle. The terrified Bigley was made to plead for his life in multiple videos released by his captors. In one, dressed in an orange jumpsuit echoing the notorious American prison at Guantanamo Bay, the 62-year-old prisoner denounced the P.M. with the words, “Tony Blair is lying. He doesn’t care about me. I’m just one person.”

Despite this charge, there were indeed several attempts to free Bigley, short of the red line of actually meeting the ransom demand. The Irish government, which importantly had not dirtied its hands by participating in the war, discovered that Bigley had a claim on Irish citizenship; thinking it might thereby have greater credibility to intercede, Dublin issued Bigley a passport and sent Gerry Adams on the diplomatic offensive, to no avail. It’s also been reported that Bigley was nearly extricated by an MI6 operation that got so far as to load him, armed, into an escape vehicle before the ride was intercepted at a militants’ checkpoint.

Instead, on October 7, the militants read a statement denouncing the occupation of Iraq and then cut off Bigley’s head for the cameras, to great grief in Bigley’s home city of Liverpool. The footage has circulated online.

The Spectator provocateur and (already) M.P. for Henley Boris Johnson — who today occupies Blair’s old digs at 10 Downing Street thanks in no small part to New Labour’s eagerness for the Iraq blunder — filed an editorial notable for its incendiary meanness on the topic of (so the title says) “Bigley’s Fate”, somehow absurdly tied to a shot at Bigley’s hometown for a 1989 crowd crush disaster at a football pitch.

A request by the authorities for a minute’s silence [at a football match] in memory of Mr Ken Bigley, the news of whose murder by terrorists in Iraq had broken the previous day, was largely and ostentatiously ignored. Yet the fact that such a tribute was demanded in the first place emphasised the mawkish sentimentality of a society that has become hooked on grief and likes to wallow in a sense of vicarious victimhood …

we have lost our sense of proportion about such things. There have, as a correspondent to the Daily Telegraph pointed out this week, been no such outbreaks of national mourning whenever one of our brave soldiers is killed serving his country in Iraq.

The extreme reaction to Mr Bigley’s murder is fed by the fact that he was a Liverpudlian. Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune — its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society. The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon. The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,History,Hostages,Iraq,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Wartime Executions

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2004: Fabrizio Quattrocchi, “I’ll show you how an Italian dies!”

Add comment April 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 2004, Italian mercenary Fabrizio Quattrocchi was executed by Iraqi insurgents.

A former Italian army corporal turned baker, Quattrocchi (English Wikipedia entry | the vastly more detailed Italian) hired on with an American contractor in the Iraq fiasco as a private security guard at €8,000 per month, intending to save enough to start a family.

Instead, Quattrocchi was seized as a hostage outside Baghdad with three comrades on April 13, 2004, by the “Green Brigades,” one of that era’s many ephemeral bodies of militants. The other three* were held (and eventually freed unharmed via a June 2004 special forces raid) further to an unsuccessful ultimatum demanding Italian withdrawal. Quattrocchi, by contrast, was executed the very next day after capture — seemingly to prove that the kidnappers meant business after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi greeted news of the men’s capture with a vow that he would never give in to “blackmail.”

A video of the murder was delivered to Al Jazeera TV, which has never aired it in its entirety. However, it became known via second-hand reports of those who had viewed it, and eventually from a partial airing of the video, that just prior to being shot Quattrocchi spat defiant last words to his executioners:

'I'll show you how an Italian dies'
From the London Times, April 16, 2004.

Then he was shot dead,** and dumped in the grave he’d been forced to dig for himself.

Thanks to these last words, which Berlusconi and his foreign minister Franco Frattini immediately pinned to a bloody banner, Quattrocchi’s memory has been the subject of partisan rancor in Italy. The left has disdained to celebrate a gun for hire in a disastrous imperial foray; the right has honored his patriotism and conferred a medal of valor upon him in 2006 — arousing some protest since this recognition has not been extended to regular Italian soldiers who fell to terrorist attacks in Iraq, nor to less bellicose murdered hostages like Enzo Baldoni.

* The other captives were Salvatore Stefio, Maurizio Agliana, and Umberto Cupertino, all like Quattrocchi Italians in their mid-thirties. Stefio would later be prosecuted and acquitted for unauthorized recruitment of security contractors.

** About a month after Quattrocchi was slain by gunfire, the grisly beheading of hostage Nick Berg inaugurated a different epoch in Iraq’s stagey hostage murders.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Famous Last Words,History,Hostages,Iraq,Italy,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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2004: Nick Berg, by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Add comment May 7th, 2016 Headsman

Twenty-six-year-old American communications contractor Nick Berg was beheaded a hostage in Iraq on this date in 2004 — allegedly by the personal hand of Al-Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A veteran of the mujahideen who drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Zarqawi spent most of the 1990s in a Jordanian prison but was amnestied just in time to rejoin militant Islam before it became a post-9/11 boom industry.

Zarqawi’s Jordanian terrorist group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, transitioned with the American invasion of Iraq into the Al-Qaeda franchise in that country, a feared prosecutor of the sectarian civil war there, and the lineal forbear of the present-day Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).

It also became a lusty early adopter of the emerging beheading-video genre: an ancient penalty perfectly adapted for the digital age.

This ferocious group was a severe mismatch for Berg, a Pennsylvanian freelance radio tower repairman (and pertinently, a Jew) who set up his Prometheus Methods Tower Service in the northern city of Mosul* in the months following the 2003 U.S. invasion. This was also around the time that American occupation forces’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light — a powerful excuse for blood vengeance.

Berg vanished from Baghdad in April 2004, and was not seen in public again until the whole world saw him: the unwilling feature of a May 11 video titled Sheik Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American infidel with his hands and promises Bush more.

“We tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls,” a voice says. “You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins … slaughtered in this way.”

Warning: Mature Content. This is both a political document of our time, and a horrifying snuff film. Notice that Berg appears in an orange jumpsuit, a seeming allusion to Muslim prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

Twenty-five months later to the day, Zarqawi was assassinated by a U.S. Air Force bombing.

* As of this writing, Mosul is occupied by Zarqawi’s creation, the Islamic State.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,Iraq,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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2004: Yang Xinhai, Monster Killer

1 comment February 14th, 2014 Headsman

When I killed people I had a desire. This inspired me to kill more. I don’t care whether they deserve to live or not. It is none of my concern…I have no desire to be part of society. Society is not my concern.

-Yang Xinhai

On this date in 2004, China executed one of its most prolific serial killers ever.

Yang Xinhai was an impoverished migrant worker with previous theft and rape convictions already to his name when he commenced his infamous spree in 1999.

Over the ensuing four years the so-called “Monster Killer” amassed 67 murders and 23 rapes via terrifyingly bold home invasions: he would break into rural occupied rural dwellings under cover of darkness wielding a heavy iron hammer or similar slasher-villain melee weapon, and then just go to town.

“He didn’t leave survivors, and more than a few families were exterminated by his hand,” one newspaper report described. (In fact, about five people are known to have survived Yang’s various attacks.)

The last of his slayings — eight people in two different attacks in Hebei Province villages — occurred a bare six months before Yang himself caught a bullet to the back of his end. A routine police stop in November 2003 made him a little too shifty and prompted beat cops to detain him. Almost immediately the diabolical character of their new capture spilled out.

Yang himself didn’t see the point in resisting the inevitable. He provided a full confession, didn’t bother to defend himself in an hour-long trial on February 1, 2004, and declined to mount any sort of appeal to prevent his swift execution 13 days after that.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,Shot

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2004: Former vice-governor Wang Huaizhong

Add comment February 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2004, the former deputy governor of China’s Anhui province was executed for official corruption.

It was just weeks after Wang’s conviction for grifting some 100 million yuan in real estate transactions dating back to the mid 1990’s.

We suppose Wang did his appeals no favors by steadfastly denying guilt — although he might have reckoned that the national “determination … to fight corruption” thwarted any such plan.

Instead of confessing to his crimes, Wang had stood against the public prosecutors and even continued to seek bribes during the investigation from some private business owners, said Wang Huanhai, head of the investigation team.

According to the prosecutor, Wang attempted to use the bribe to buy over more relations, hoping the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party would spare him from being inquisited.

During the first trial on Dec. 29, 2003, Wang denied all the allegations, but in the latest trial confessed to most of the crimes and argued for a light penalty on the grounds that the bribes he had taken were not big enough to justify a death penalty.

His request was turned down, given the amount involved in the case as well as his resistance to investigation.

Wang’s prosecutors said he was an orphan and had climbed up the social ladder with an inferiority complex. “That’s why he was dictatorial and could not stand anyone questioning him,” said Wang Huanhai, “Nor did he ever confess to his wrongdoing in public.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Pelf,Politicians,Theft

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2004: Atefah Rajabi Shalaaleh, schoolgirl

6 comments August 15th, 2010 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 2004, a sixteen-year-old Iranian schoolgirl, Atefah Salaaleh, was publicly hanged from a truck-mounted crane for adultery and “crimes against chastity.”

In a classic example of a miscarriage of justice, the same person, Haji Rezai, served as prosecutor, witness, judge and hangman against this young girl. In violation of Iranian law, Atefah did not have legal representation at her trial.

Iran, when it signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had promised not to execute minors, but according to Amnesty International, Atefah has been at least the tenth person under 18 to be executed in Iran since 1990. Her family says they gave her 1988 birth certificate to the court, but Judge Rezai just looked at her and decided she was at least 22. Because it’s so easy to determine a person’s exact age just based on their appearance.

Atefah appears to be a good example of a problem child: her mother was killed in a car accident when she was very young and her father was a drug addict, so she was given to the inadequate care of her elderly grandparents. Although she was described as “lively and intelligent,” she often roamed the streets and became a delinquent.

In the years prior to the arrest that lead to Atefah’s death, she had already been arrested multiple times by Iran’s Morals Police for crimes including being in a car alone with a boy (her cousin) and having sex with unmarried men. According to friends quoted in Iran Focus, she may have been sexually abused by a close relative, and she also alleged abuse by the Morals Police.

For the arrest that lead to her death, Atefah was not charged with committing any specific offenses; rather, she was arrested after an unsigned petition named her as a “bad influence” on the community and a “source of immorality.”

Under torture she admitted she had had sex with a 51-year-old married taxi driver, whom she claimed had repeatedly raped her. In court, she defiantly removed her hijab, threw her shoes at judge Rezai, and said the taxi driver should be punished rather than herself. (Reportedly, he was given about 100 lashes and then released.) Atefah’s death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Iran and she was hung three months after her trial.

Atefah’s life and death have been the subject of a BBC documentary which you can see in six parts on YouTube. Keep a hanky handy.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Iran,Other Voices,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Women,Wrongful Executions

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2004: Benjamín Altamirano lynched

Add comment June 15th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2004, Bolivian Aymara peasants burned to death the mayor of Ayo Ayo.

Disgruntled residents of his fiefdom had accused Benjamin Altamirano (who was also Aymara) of corruption, and received no redress. Likewise had Altamirano complained to the central government of growing threats against him without receiving protection.

The situation came to a shocking head when Altamirano was kidnapped from the capital city of La Paz the night of June 14 and driven overnight to his home in Ayo Ayo. There, according to wire reports,*

[o]fficials said he was then burned to death inside his house, with his body later dragged through the streets and dumped in the town square. Witnesses said he was tied up, set aflame in the town square and hung upside down from a lamppost.

The Andean Altiplano region to which Ayo Ayo belonged was at this time being riven by the Bolivian gas war, a social conflict that would ultimately force the resignation of neoliberal President Carlos Mesa and lead to the election of leftist** indigenous leader Evo Morales.

From 2003 to 2005, the region (on both sides of the Peru-Bolivia border) was paralyzed with repeated peasant protests and the community expulsion of disagreeable state authorities (other government officials fled Ayo Ayo after Altamirano died).

In the words of one unrepentant Aymara quoted in this Guardian piece,

‘We Aymara carry rebellion in our blood,’ said Ramón Coba, who heads the leading Ayo Ayo peasant organisation. ‘Bolivia is totally corrupt, not just the mayor. All of them should be finished in the same way, if not burnt then drowned or strangled or pulled apart by four tractors… It’s the only way they are going to learn.’

* This one ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 16, 2004.

** Morales, in 2009:

After more than 500 years, we, the Quechuas and Aymaras, are still the rightful owners of this land. We, the indigenous people, after 500 years of resistance, are retaking the power. This retaking of power is oriented towards the recovery of our own riches, our own natural resources such as the hydrocarbons. This affects the interests of the transnational corporations and the interests of the neoliberal system. Never the less, I am convinced that the power of the people is increasing and strengthening. This power is changing presidents, economic models and politics. We are convinced that capitalism is the enemy of the earth, of humanity and of culture.

Morales has floated elevating indigenous “communal justice” actions like Altamirano’s lynching into the stature of de jure law.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Bolivia,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Disfavored Minorities,History,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Summary Executions

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2004: Abdullah Shah, Zardad’s dog

Add comment April 20th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2004, an Afghanistan liberated from the Taliban enjoyed its first freedom-execution: the secret shooting for various war atrocities of Abdullah Shah.

Shah worked for Afghan warload Zardad Khan during the early 1990s civil war that brought the Taliban to power.

And by “worked for,” we mean that Zardad kept Shah chained up in a cave, and used him to bite his prisoners and (!) devour their testicles.

Michael Vick, eat your balls out.

“Zardad’s Dog” — the guy’s nickname, as well as the title of a short film made about his case, which was also the first capital prosecution in post-Taliban Afghanistan — was well-qualified for his bestial career.

Implicated in possibly hundreds of deaths, his 20 murder convictions included three of his wives (another of his wives, whom Shah tried to burn to death, testified against him) and five of his own children.

“The president felt compelled by the need to ensure justice to the victims,” a Karzai spokesman said. “Especially in view of the nature of the crimes he [Abdullah Shah] committed.” So compelled was he that the government only publicly declared the execution a week later.

Skeptical observers have noted that Karzai might have also felt this particular “need to ensure justice to the victims” in a case where the condemned had the goods on some of the top men in Karzai’s own government, who resided further up Shah’s own chain of command.

Amnesty International considered his case rife with other irregularities. Kabul temporarily suspended judicial executions thereafter; the country would not carry out another execution until 2007 (pdf).

Shah’s eponymous boss, Zardad, slipped into England on asylum. A year after his “dog’s” execution, Zardad drew a 20-year sentence at the Old Bailey for various acts of torture and summary execution during Afghanistan’s civil war.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Afghanistan,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Shot,Soldiers,Torture

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2004: Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the last hanged in India … for now

10 comments August 14th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee hanged at Calcutta’s Alipore Central Jail for the 1990 rape-murder of 14-year-old Hetal Parekh.

Chatterjee’s hanging also brought into the limelight the garrulous, publicity-hounding 84-year-old executioner Nata Mallick, who conducted the hanging with his son and grandson and told anyone with a microphone stories of the hangman’s glory days.

Those days are long past on the subcontinent.

Among death penalty countries, India is the anti-Singapore: despite its billion-plus population, death sentences are vanishingly rare. Chatterjee is not only the most recent person hanged in India as of this writing, but the only one hanged there since 1995.

One actual hanging in fourteen years for a billion-person country? The only lower execution rate would be actual abolition.

Chatterjee may be relieved of his milestone distinctions in the not-too-distant future, however. (Where “not-too-distant” by the standards of the Indian death penalty might still mean years away.)

Mohammad Afzal, condemned for the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, has become a political lightning rod; India’s conservative Hindu party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made political hay pushing for Afzal’s execution.

Update: A different Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, became the next hanged after Chatterjee in 2012. Afzal Guru got his in February 2013.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,India,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines

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2004: Ibtisam Hussein, child-murderer

Add comment March 1st, 2009 Headsman

Five years ago today, in Jordan’s Swaqa Prison, a 24-year-old woman named Ibtisam Hussein was hanged for drowning two young children in the Jordan Valley canal in 2002.

Ibtisam Hussein (or Ibtisam Hussain) was the only known execution in Jordan in 2004, after a manslaughter conviction was upgraded on appeal. The unfortunate five- and six-year-old victims belonged to members of her fiance’s family who opposed the engagement to Hussein … evidently with good reason.

The rope reportedly broke on the first attempt; she was executed successfully on a second try an hour later.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Jordan,Murder,Women

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