Fact Check

ISIS Crisis

Have ISIS militants been beheading children in Iraq and Syria?

Published Aug. 12, 2014


Claim:   ISIS militants have been beheading children in Iraq and Syria.


Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, August 2014]

I have seen this on Facebook a couple times about an article that says Christians, including children, in Iraq are being beheaded by the ISIS. The video clip showed an interview with Mark Aribo, who insists that even children of Christian families are being beheaded. Is this true?

Isis is Beheading Children is trending on Facebook. Can someone please confirm this is true or not? There appear to be horrific photos on a catholic website and some mention on CNN
as well.


Origins:   One of the many atrocity stories associated with the armed clash between the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) jihadist group and government forces in Syria and Iraq is the claim that ISIS militants have been killing and beheading even children (or specifically Christian children) in the areas they occupy, where they reportedly give non-Muslims ultimatums to convert, pay fines, or suffer "death by the sword." In particular, Mark Arabo, an American businessman and humanitarian who is a national spokesman for Iraqi Christians, has been making appearances on media outlets such as CNN in an attempt to publicize claims of ISIS beheadings of children:

In an interview with CNN’s Jonathan Mann, Chaldean-American businessman Mark Arabo said that the "world hasn’t seen an evil like this for generations."

"There is a park in Mosul, where [ISIS] they actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick and have them in the park," he explained. "More children are getting beheaded, mothers are getting raped and killed, and fathers are being hung."


The site Catholic Online has also published graphic photographs said to depict atrocious acts of violence carried out ISIS forces, such as the crucifixion of non-Muslims, the murder of women (including a vivid photo of a woman's death by throat-slitting), and the killing of children (including two images showing the body of a decapitated little girl):

That site has also published multiple photographs detailing the reported brutal executions of (adult) Iraqis:

Islamic State terrorists have happily photographed and shared an entire execution with the world, as is their custom. In this case, the victims are fellow Sunnis, members of a tribe that cut a deal with the Islamic State only for the agreement to fall apart.

The tribe was to be left alone, but reportedly its leaders chafed under IS control and its members staged an uprising, driving IS terrorists from at least two villages. The IS returned with a vengeance, capturing and executing anyone suspected of participating in the uprising.

To the Islamic State, these men are traitors to their cause. As such, they were treated brutally.

The series of images, released on Twitter, is now being shared with you, our readers, uncensored. We are sharing these graphic images to raise worldwide awareness of what is happening in Iraq and Syria as these Muslim terrorists conduct genocide against all who refuse to submit to their will.


Others maintain that such claims are largely fiction and are just more of the usual exaggerated atrocity stories typically circulated as propaganda during wars to sway public opinion against one side (and in this case provide a prompt or justification for U.S. military intervention). For example, the picture of the decapitated girl shown above had been circulated two years earlier as an example of an atrocity committed by the Assad government in Syria when a helicopter gunship reportedly opened fire on unarmed civilians.

Accounts of ISIS forces killing non-combatants, including children, have been put forth by multiple western news media outlets and human rights groups. Human Rights Watch, for example, reported that:

Fighters from the extremist Islamist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) appear to have executed at least 15 civilians in northern Syria on May 29, 2014. Local residents told Human Rights Watch at least six children were among those killed after ISIS raided the village of al-Taliliya, near Ras al-‘Ayn.

Residents and local officials said the victims were Syrian Arabs who had been displaced from the countryside around the city of Aleppo.

While everyone is focused on ISIS’s advances in Iraq, they’re also committing atrocities in Syria, including gunning down civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “ISIS flouts the law, executing civilians at will, while Russia and China paralyze UN Security Council action.”

Details of the killings on May 29 were difficult to obtain because many al-Taliliya residents were afraid to talk. A doctor at the hospital in Ras al-‘Ayn told Human Rights Watch that he saw 16 or 17 bodies brought from al-Taliliya at about noon on May 29. They included four men roughly in their fifties, five or six women, and five or six children, he said.


CNN similarly relayed accounts from Human Rights Watch of atrocities against civilians by ISIS, including the killing of children:

Human Rights Watch has documented violence against ethnic and religious minorities, reporting that tens of thousands of families have already fled their communities near Mosul in fear for their lives. Village residents have described horrific attacks by ISIS fighters, who "seize local men and pillage homes and places of worships," Human Rights Watch said.

The militants have summarily executed villagers and Iraqi soldiers alike, slaughtering a group of soldiers in Tikrit [in June 2014]. Human Rights Watch also said ISIS extremists reportedly killed 40 Shia Turkmen, including children, in four communities in Kirkuk [in June 2014].


The UN News Centre also reported in June 2014 on "a number of verified summary executions and extra-judicial killings of civilians, police, and soldiers who were hors combat (i.e., disabled; no longer able to fight)" by ISIS forces:

More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq, and another 1,000 injured in the two weeks since the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) and its allies began to sweep across the country, the United Nations has confirmed, stressing that those figures should be viewed “very much as a minimum.”

According to the human rights team at the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), at least 757 civilians were killed and 599 injured in Nineveh and Salah al-Din provinces, north of Baghdad, and Diyala, in the east, between 5 and 22 June.

“This figure — which should be viewed very much as a minimum — includes

a number of verified summary executions and extra-judicial killings of civilians, police, and soldiers who were hors combat,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told journalists in Geneva.

At least an additional 318 people were killed, and 590 wounded, during the same 17 days in Baghdad and areas in the south, many of them as a result of at least six separate vehicle-borne bombs.

OHCHR is cautioning that abductions continue to be reported in the northern provinces and Baghdad, some of which have resulted in killings. There is also evidence of summary executions continuing to take place, the UN office continued.

ISIL has broadcast more than a dozen videos showing beheadings and shootings of hors combat soldiers and police officers, as well as apparent targeting of people based on their religion or ethnicity, including Shia and minority groups such as Turcomans, Shabak, Christians, and Yezidis.

Meanwhile, UNAMI has also received reports of abuses by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including at least two summary executions of prisoners. One of which, at the al-Qalaa police station in Tal Afar, allegedly involving the killing of 31 detainees on 15 June, is still not fully verified.

UN human rights officers have, however, confirmed a reported summary execution by ISF personnel in Mosul. According to the account, personnel threw grenades into rooms filled with detainees in the Nineveh Operations Command, killing at least 10 and injuring another 14.


In November 2014, Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the "Vicar of Baghdad," recounted on video the story of Iraqi Christian children who were reportedly told by ISIS militants to convert to Islam or be killed and then were beheaded after proclaiming "No, we love Yeshua (Jesus)."

Given the problematic nature of timely and accurate reporting from war-torn areas, the reluctance of inhabitants of those areas to put themselves in harm's way by openly speaking of what they've witnessed, the anecdotal nature of many such accounts, and the potential political motivations for various parties to demonize their opponents by promulgating false or less-than-accurate information, it's difficult at this point to accurately assess to what extent ISIS forces have been executing civilian children, whether they have specifically targeted Christian children (more so than any other non-Muslim or non-Sunni adherents), and how many (if any) of such executions have taken the form of beheadings.

Last updated:   13 December 2014


    Erdman, Shelby Lin et al.   "Islamic Extremists Kill 270 in Attack on a Gas Field in Central Syria."

    CNN.com.   18 July 2014.

    Catholic Online.   "ISIS Gleefully Trumpets Images Detailing Brutal Execution of Iraqis."

    8 August 2014.

    Catholic Online.   "ISIS begins killing Christians in Mosul, Children Beheaded."

    8 August 2014.

    Human Rights Watch.   "Syria: ISIS Summarily Killed Civilians."

    14 June 2014.

    UN News Centre.   "Iraq Violence: UN Confirms More Than 2,000 Killed, Injured Since Early June."

    24 June 2014.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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