Off with their heads: The Islamic State and civilian beheadings

Steven T Zech, Zane Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review


This commentary evaluates the use of beheadings by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We place beheadings in a broader historical context and draw from academic research in terrorism studies and the social sciences to explain why the Islamic State has adopted such brutal tactics. We outline the strategic logic of beheading and evaluate explanations related to symbolic politics, culture, and organizational dynamics. We conclude with a discussion about the future of Islamic State violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-93
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Terrorism Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Islamic State
  • beheading
  • terrorism
  • violence
  • Iraq
  • Syria

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