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ISIS Executes 13 Teenagers In Mosul For…Watching Football

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The importance of football to a society cannot be understated. It seems that despite their clear disregard for human life, even the bloodthirsty members of ISIS recognize it. During Saddam Hussein’s rule the Iraqi football team suffered a precipitous decline in performance first due to the deaths incurred in the brutal eight-year war with Iran, followed by the international sanctions imposed on the country. One of Saddam’s sons, the infamous Uday Hussein, was head of the football federation that he ruled with an iron fist. Following losses players were beaten and lashed with electric cables or forced to jump into pits of raw sewage. After failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, the team was forced to kick a concrete soccer ball around a prison yard as punishment. In the West when stories like this came out they were laughed at for their absurdity—following Saddam’s removal, the stories were revealed to be all too true.

In 2007, in the midst of the Iraqi (civil) war, Iraq managed to win the Asian Cup with a victory over Saudi Arabia in the final played in Jakarta, Indonesia. It gave hope to a ravaged nation, with one taxi driver stating “those 25 men brought happiness and hope to 25 million Iraqis, the thing our politicians couldn’t do.” A country’s pride was, if only for a few moments, restored on the soccer field.

 

Eight years on, in the current installment of the Asian Cup, things have again gone awry. But this time it isn’t innocent players suffering, it is innocent people suffering. ISIS militants executed 13 teenage boys in Mosul on January 12 for the crime of violating Sharia Law. What was the “crime”, as reported by activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently? Watching Iraq defeat Jordan 1-0 in a football match played in Brisbane, Australia. It is absurd, but this too is all too real. These innocent teenage boys had in their minds the same thing many teenage boys all over the world have—watching their country preform at an international soccer match. But having pride for a country now partially occupied by Islamist militants somehow became a crime that cost them their lives.

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Watching This In Mosul Could Cost You Your Life (Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2917071/ISIS-execute-13-football-fans-firing-squad-watching-Iraq-play-Jordan-TV-Islamist-controlled-Mosul.html)

 

Islam and football have, admittedly, been at odds in the past as well. As I outlined in my thesis, many Ottoman Sultans viewed football with suspicion and forbade the game for Turks. Therefore it was a Armenians, Greeks, and Levantines who formed teams and played against the visiting British sailors. More recently, during last summer’s World Cup, it was female fans who were forbidden to watch Iran’s World Cup matches with male fans—such mixing of the sexes was deemed “un-Islamic”.

But these are Muslim governments that used football as an excuse to keep people from coming together—they are much different than ISIS, a terrorist group which seeks to extend its reach into every corner of society. Before the World Cup, I wrote about Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria where football fans were also targeted. Yahoo News, for their part, paralleled ISIS’ recent killings with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The amount of blood shed at Kabul’s National Soccer Stadium is horrifying—it was where the Taliban conducted public executions. In 1999 a female accused of killing her husband in a domestic dispute was shot to death on the edge of the field’s penalty area. The chilling photo is below:

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.rawa.org/murder-w.htm

With such violence perpetrated by ISIS just over Turkey’s southern borders it should come as no surprise that some of Turkey’s domestic soccer games in the southeast have become venues for politically influenced violence. The sad thing is that Turkey’s President is still showing no understanding of the menace that is growing—and the further instability it is fomenting—with each passing day. In response to the Paris attacks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Muslims have never taken part in terrorist massacres”. Even if ISIS are not true Muslims—such people cannot be, in my opinion—I still have to ask the question: If not a “terrorist massacre”, then what is executing 13 teenagers for watching a soccer game?

Champions League Fans Targeted in Nigerian Bombing: A Reminder That Security Forces Worldwide Should Be Wary of World Cup Related Violence This Summer

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Scanning the football news I came across a report of a bombing in the Nigerian city of Jos, which targeted football fans watching the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid May 24th at a viewing party. At least three people were reported to have been killed, and the number would have been much greater if the (allegedly) suicide bomber had detonated his bomb at the correct time and place. According to Chris Olakpe, the commissioner of police for Plateau state, the bomb “exploded before the viewing centre because of pressure from local youths and the alertness of the local people”.

While Nigeria is no stranger to violence—just four days earlier, on May 20, twin car bomb explosions killed at least 118 people in Jos— this event is particularly worrying in light of the upcoming World Cup (which Nigeria will be competing in Group F along with Messi’s Argentina).

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been suspected in both recent attacks, and has been suspected in previous football-related violence as well. Please see this passage from the Agence France-Presse item appearing on Yahoo News:

 

Last month, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, northeast Yobe state, and shot dead two people showing the two Champions League quarter-final matches.

Police at the time did not directly blame Boko Haram for the attack but the group has been known for preaching against football as part of its agenda to impose strict Islamic law in northern Nigeria.

 In several video clips, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion.

 

It would behoove security forces in not only Nigeria but across the world to ensure that security is tight at all open viewing areas. I myself attended a viewing party in Berlin during the 2010 World Cup and can attest that the atmosphere is certainly electric—but it is also chaotic:

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Security forces the world over should be on their guard at all times. Major sporting events have always been conspicuous soft targets for attacks, but such attacks tend to occur in the home country (the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta is an example). With the World Cup being a truly global event that brings large numbers of people out to watch even in countries that did not qualify, the number of targets grows, and the festive atmosphere serves to provide cover for those with destructive plans. Just because a country is not hosting the tournament does not necessarily mean that it won’t be a target for smaller-scale attacks.

I urge football fans everywhere to keep an eye out for suspicious activities wherever you may be watching this summer, and wish you a safe and enjoyable World Cup 2016.

 

The Scene After the Car Bombing in Jos (Image Courtesy of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/46-dead-in-suspected-boko-haram-twin-car-bomb-attack-in-jos-nigeria-9406229.html)

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