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Islamic State Cleric Facing Trial for Objecting to Jordanian Pilot’s Death by Fire

Many Muslim leaders, even within militant ranks, have condemned the burning execution of Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh, saying the act goes against Islamic principles.
Photo by Nasser Nasser/AP

The Islamic State has dumped one of its own clerics, who now faces trial by the Sunni Muslim militant group, for vocalizing his disapproval of the immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot.

The unnamed cleric, a Saudi national, reportedly raised his objections to the burning death of Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh at a meeting of Islamic State clerics in the Syrian town of al-Bab in Aleppo province, the UK-based rights group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Friday.


The cleric had allegedly suggested that the perpetrators of the murder should be put on trial, according to SOHR. The militant group released a 22-minute long video Tuesday showing Islamic State fighters setting Kasaesbeh on fire, while the 26-year-old stood in a metal cage.

Kasaesbeh's death, which departed from the beheadings and execution-style shootings that the group has favored for its hostages in the past, has elicited widespread condemnation from Muslims and clerics around the world, who have pointed to specific Islamic tradition that forbids burning someone alive.

The Islamic State is burying children alive and crucifying them, says UN. Read more here.

"There's actually a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, who says: 'no one should be burned alive as a form of punishment'," Haris Tarin, spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told VICE News. "Burning is one type of death that is specifically said to be torture in the religious tradition."

"What this shows is the brutality of ISIS," Tarin added. "It's not really about following religious text, it's really about shock and awe and trying to grab the world's attention."

Some analysts say the Islamic State's efforts to step up their propaganda campaign with heightened elements of unpredictability and spectacle has the potential to cause a backlash against the group, in terms of their ability to control their media efforts and to attract budding jihadists sympathetic with the cause.


In Syria, the militants have been concentrating efforts to boost their image among local residents, attempting to impress the notion that the group is a legitimate state. On Wednesday, the Times of London reported that rifts between the Islamic State and it's parent organization, al Qaeda, had deepened, with some Islamist supporters expressing conflicting views on the religious laws governing the method of Kasaesbeh's killing.

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William Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at Maryland University, told VICE News that the militants, "do what they want to do, as opposed to what Islam wants them to do." He said it's not surprising the group would ignore or cast out a cleric — even one preaching within Islamic State ranks — who disagreed with their actions.

"What's interesting is they encourage — within their organization — a veneration of fighters, not scholars and ideologues," Braniff said. "Fighters on the front line are seen to have greater authority and legitimacy than Muslim clerics, whom they regard as armchair quarterbacks, criticizing them from the comforts of their home."

After the pilot's death, Islamic State supporters took to Twitter to defend the method of execution, posting a religious edict stating that the burning of an Infidel to death was allowed under Islamic law.

But Tarin said such interpretations of Islam are "completely distorted."

"[The militants] get these notions from clerics that share the same perverted world view as them," he said. "They come up with medieval rulings and manipulate the texts to try to apply them to modern times to justify their actions. Slavery, killing of children, beheadings; these are all medieval notions, and they are all actions the broader Muslim community is sickened by."

The Islamic State.Watch the full-length VICE News documentary here.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields