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From the MEMRI Archives – Egyptian Executioner: Strangling Has Been My Hobby Since Childhood, I Just Love My Job; Saudi Executioner: In Addition To Beheading, I Also Cut Off Thieves' Hands And 'A Hand And A Leg On Alternate Sides, As Is Written In The Koran'
The following is a compilation of reports and interviews from MEMRI TV on Egyptian and Saudi state executioners, from 2006 to 2013.
Saudi Government-Appointed Executioner For Mecca Abdallah Al-Bishi Discusses His Calling And Demonstrates His Weapons And Methods
Following are excerpts from an interview with the executioner for Mecca, Abdallah Al-Bishi. The interview aired on LBC TV on November 4, 2006.
To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here.
"The People Who Supervise This Field [in Saudi Arabia] Summoned Me, Saying I Had a Mission"
Reporter: "This is the most renowned executioner in, Abdallah Bin Sa'id Al-Bishi, who carries out the executions. His sword delineates the border between seriousness and play. There is no negotiating with him once the heads have ripened. When it's harvesting time, he is the most suited for the job."
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "I started to work in this field after the death of my father – about a week or 10 days after his death, in 1412 [1991-92]. I was surprised that the people who supervise this field summoned me, saying I had a mission. Allah be praised. Of course, I did not have swords or anything back then, but I used the swords of my father, may he rest in peace, and carried out the execution. My first mission was to execute three people."
Reporter: "Abu Bader's swords have cut off a hundred heads and more. His eldest son, Badr, is training in the same profession. He inherited this profession from his father, Sa'id Al-Bishi. He remembers how, when still a, he accompanied him to the beheading of a criminal in Mecca. That sight, Abu Badr says, was the in his life."
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "I was at school, and an execution was set for my father in Mecca. It was to take place in front of the King Abd Al-'Aziz Gate. Before all that happened at the Al-Haram Mosque, the executions were held there. We showed up. I was a little boy. The first thing that came to my mind when people talked about executions was the digestive system. I wanted to see it. At that time, we had an exam at school on the digestive system, and we had to explain about the digestive system and whatever... So I came along, and the moment my father executed the man, I ran to see the digestive system, but all I could see was the man's head flying, and where the neck used to be, there was a kind of well. It went down. That's it. I couldn't take it anymore. I woke up in the car on the way home. At night, I tried to go to sleep, but couldn't. I had nightmares, but only once. Then I got used to it, Allah be praised. "
Reporter: "He carries the memory of many events, which naturally could have an effect on people, but one sees that he relates to some of them with humor.
"He denies that the executioner is cruel. He considers himself one of the most compassionate people, and all the stories about him come from rumors."
"This is The Sword I Used On My First Day At Work"
Abdallah Al-Bishi [showing a sword]: "Let's start with 'the Sultan.' I began with this Sultan. This is the sword I used on my first day at work. This is an old sword. This is a 'Jowhar' sword. All my swords are 'Jowhar.' 'Jowhar' are the strongest swords used for beheadings. It is not affected by the number of people beheaded with it. It is made of strong iron, not the kind that breaks or anything.
[Shows another sword] "This sword is also a Jowhar. Every sword, of course, is different in its own way, and is suited for its task. We have a sword – this 'Qaridha,' to be precise – which is used for vertical strokes. This stroke is, of course, different from the horizontal one. The horizontal stroke goes like this [demonstrating]. These are different strokes." [...]
Dr. Turki Al-Atyan, Saudi Interior Ministry psychologist: "The rulings of theshari'a – executions or other punishments decreed by Allah – are carried out by the sword, not by hanging or by gunfire. In the past, gunfire was used, and the victim's guardian was allowed to do the shooting, but out of the fear that possible injustice, Saudi Arabia decided that executions would be carried out by the sword." [...]
First TV Host: "Like we said at the beginning of the show, the executioner Abdallah Al-Bishi will be joining us shortly. He is delayed because he is busy carrying out an execution. He is coming to the show straight from work, and will be joining us soon. [...]
"There are several executioners in Saudi Arabia, but there are no accurate figures. According to the figures we obtained in our research, there are six executioners in Saudi Arabia, but there may be a few others. There are no accurate figures."
Second TV Host: "They operate in different regions. Sometimes Abdallah Al-Bishi is asked to travel to another region, to carry out an execution. We will talk to him about that, and about the young executioners he has trained." [...]
I Also Cut Off Thieves' Hands And "A Hand And A Leg On Alternate Sides, As Is Written In The Koran"
First TV Host: "Do you cut off hands, or do you just do beheadings?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Yes, yes. I carry out the punishment of cutting off thieves' hands, as well as the cutting off of a hand and a leg on alternate sides, as is written in the Koran."
Second TV Host: "Abdallah, when you carry out the punishment of cutting off limbs, do you anesthetize the condemned person, or is it done without anesthesia, like beheadings?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "With regard to the cutting off of a hand, or of both a hand and a leg, it is done with local anesthesia only."
Second TV host: "But the person who is being beheaded is definitely not anesthetized, right?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "No, he is not anesthetized at all."
First TV host: "Abu Badr, do you remember the first time you carried out an execution? Do you remember that day?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "I remember it to this day. I was surprised when the officials in charge asked me to carry out one of Allah's punishments. When I came, I was told it would be an execution, and I said: 'No problem.' I took the sword that used to belong to my father, may he rest in peace... "
First TV Host: "How old were you then?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "At that point I was... I was a man."
First TV Host: "You are a man at any age, there's no doubt about that, but how old were you?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "I don't remember exactly – 32 or 35 years old. I began in 1412."
First TV Host: "How was the experience, especially since it was your first time? How did you feel?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Every person is a bit worried when he starts a new job, and is afraid he will fail."
"I Have Beheaded Many People Who Were My Friends, But Whoever Commits An Offense Brings It On Himself"; "If The Heart Is Compassionate, The Hand Fails"
Second TV host: "Abdallah, what was your most difficult beheading? Have you ever beheaded someone you knew?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Yes, I have beheaded many people who were my friends, but whoever commits an offense brings it on himself."
First TV host: "A viewer from Riyadh called to ask whether you execute both men and women. Do you execute women, and do you feel anything different when you execute a woman or a man?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "An execution is an execution. The difference is that sometimes, when you execute a man, he cannot control his nerves, and sit or stand straight, so that the job can be done."
First TV host: "As for women, do you feel more compassion than for men? We know you are merely carrying out [the sentence], but what do you feel?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "If I felt compassion for the person I was executing, he would suffer. If the heart is compassionate, the hand fails. [...]
First TV host: "When you behead more than three or four people at once, does it affect you? My second question is: Do you need a break between executions? Does it affect you or not?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Allah be praised, there is nothing to it. Three, four, five, or six – there is nothing to it. It's entirely normal. An execution is an execution, and as long as the person stands straight... As long as the person stands straight, it makes our job much easier."
Second TV host: "Abdallah, we've heard that one day, you were executing several people, and the sword broke. Is that true? Tell us that story, please."
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "It was the handle that came off, not the blade."
First TV host: "Are you training your eldest son Badr or one of his brothers to do the same job in the future, especially since you inherited this profession from your father?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Allah be praised, Badr is about to be appointed to the position in Riyadh." [...]
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Like I already said, there is no difficulty in carrying out this mission. The only thing that concerns me is that the condemned person finish what he has to do as quickly as possible."
First TV host: "Abu Badr, what time do you get up? Do you eat a special breakfast? All these details are very important to us."
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "I cannot elaborate on the work itself. On the personal level, I am very normal. I get up in the morning, pray the Al-Fajr prayer. My breakfast is prepared, and I eat it. Allah be praised. I wait for the police car to pick me up, and I go to work. It's all very normal. I finish the job, and go home. It's all very normal."
Second TV Host: "Abdallah, sometimes at executions, the condemned asks to be pardoned by the victim's family, right?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "To be pardoned?"
Second TV host: "Do you go and talk to the victim's family?"
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Yes, yes. I intervene in the reconciliation efforts. There are many good people on the scene, who intervene through the authorities or the police. May Allah reward them all. But the first to mediate is me, the executioner on the scene."
Saudi And Egyptian Executioners Discuss Their Lives And Profession In Debate On Capital Punishment In The Arab World
Following are excerpts from a TV debate on the death penalty in the Arab world, featuring Saudi executioners Abdallah Al-Bishi and his son as well as Saudi executioner Abdallah Ahmad Bakhit Al-Ghamedi, and Egyptian hangman "Ashmawi" Hussein Urni and his son. The debate aired on Abu Dhabi TV on January 28, 2009.
To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here.
Saudi Executioner Al-Bishi: "If I Let Myself Feel Mercy Or Compassion For The Person I Am Executing, He Will Not Die At The First Stroke – He Will Suffer"
TV Host: "Professionalism is the key to success, and in the case of the stroke of a sword, success depends on concentration. Concentrate with us on the following report from Saudi Arabia."
Saudi executioner Abdallah Al-Bishi: "I inherited the job from my late father. At first, I used to accompany him. On my first mission, I was terrified. I wasn't afraid that the execution would fail. No. I was worried that if I failed, the people there would laugh at me.
"Any executioner who wants to work in this field must know how to apply the theoretical knowledge. If he knows how to stand next to the person he is executing, how to concentrate on the blow, and how to land it, the rest is easy.
"At work, if I let myself feel mercy or compassion for the person I am executing, he will not die at the first stroke. He will suffer. If the heart is compassionate, the hand fails. It can take two, three, four, or five strokes. God knows how many. He might not even die. If the heart is compassionate – that's it. The hand cannot function properly. Your hand betrays you.
"Once the mission is done, I feel relieved. I come home relaxed. I play with the children. We have fun. We have lunch. Sometimes we go out. Other times, we stay at home. Everything is normal. It has no effect on me."
Al-Bishi's Son: "Sometimes, We [Children] Join Him For An Execution"
Abdallah Al-Bishi's Son: "We sit with him and have fun together. Sometimes, we join him for an execution. The first time I went there, I was frightened. When the first guy was executed, I stood a bit towards the back, but when I saw that there was nothing to it, and that there was no reason to be afraid, I came in closer to watch. There was no problem."
Abdallah Al-Bishi: "Once I took with me one of my children, who is not here right now. I had to chop off the hand of a thief, and I took him with me. I took Muhammad, who is younger than Faysal. After we returned, he went to school, and all his friends gathered around him. He said to them: I saw how the hand of a thief was chopped off, and so on. The school principal called to thank me for explaining this to my son, who, in turn, explained it to the other students. This way they learned that a thief gets his hand chopped off.
"As for swords – t here are all kinds. There are 'Jowhar' swords – and Indian one and an Egyptian one. There are different kinds. The best is the Indian 'Jowhar.'
"I have this 'Sultan' sword. This is my favorite sword, because it is the first I worked with, after my training. Praise God, this is the 'Sultan.' This is a great sword. There is also the Indian 'Jowhar.' Praise God. You can use it up to 10 times in a row, and nothing happens to it. This is another 'Jowhar' sword, but of lesser quality, but it’s also good."
Saudi Executioner Al-Ghamedi: "It’s A Little More Difficult To Execute A Woman Than A Man"
Saudi Executioner Abdallah Ahmad Bakhit Al-Ghamedi: "None of these executions have ever affected me. They have no effect on me at home, on the street, or with my family and friends."
Abdallah Al-Bishi "This work is not about physical force. It is more about mental concentration."
Abdallah Ahmad Bakhit Al-Ghamedi: "I had to execute three women. I did all three with a sword. One I executed in Riyadh and two in Dammam, and there was a fourth one, who I executed by shooting here, in Jedda. It’s a little more difficult to execute a woman than a man. With a man, his neck is exposed down to his chest.
"With a woman, it's different, because she is completely covered, head covering, robe, and gloves included. A narrow opening is left at the neck. A skilled executioner goes in with the sword right through this opening. If the sword lands a little lower, it hits the robe, and if it lands above it, it hits her head covering. This may cause her more pain. I did this three times, and it went fine, thank God. It was not that difficult.
"In this profession, nothing happens by chance. We carry out Allah's punishments. It would be difficult to carry out executions just like that. This requires concentration and deliberation. Naturally, you have to want to do it, and you must have strong faith in Allah." [...]
Human Rights Association Head: "Execution Is... The Ending Of A Life That Was Given By Allah"
Lebanese Association For Human Rights Head Nemeh Joumaa: "An execution is the taking away of the life of a human being irrevocably. This is the ending of a life that was given by Allah, and should be taken only by the Creator." [...]
Lamri Chirouf, Amnesty International: "According to 2007 statistics, the Middle East countries executed at least 552 people. That year, the number of executions throughout the world was 1,200. Of the 552 executions, 523 were carried out in four countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq. [...]
"Ninety-nine percent of the executions are for murder and drug-related offenses. Approximately 50% were in drug cases, and 50% in murder cases. The concept ofqisas [execution for murder] is very broad, which allows the judges to sentence people to death very easily. It seems that in some of these countries, this is related to customs of blood vengeance, which have nothing to do with justice. These customs diminish the value of a human being who has erred, without delving into detail in an attempt to prove these crimes. For instance, the concept of killing is unclear. What constitutes intentional killing? There is no consensus about it. What constitutes killing in self-defense? What constitutes premeditated murder? All these are considered simply 'killing.'"[...]
Egyptian MP: "This Method Is More Humane Than Execution By Hanging"
Egyptian MP Subhi Saleh: "Does this execution method need to become more humane? This method is more humane than execution by hanging. In hanging, a man is hung by a rope, and it takes a while for him to die. In some cases, he loses control of his bodily functions – his urine and feces. In my view, being executed by sword is the same as being executed by gunshot." [...]
Egyptian Hangman Urni: "I Chose This Profession Because A Hangman Executes The Word Of Allah In This World"
Egyptian Hangman ["Ashmawi"] Hussein Urni: "I chose this profession because a hangman executes the word of Allah in this world. The hangman exacts retribution from the criminal, because the victim cannot do it himself. I chose this profession out of faith in Allah. I believe I will be rewarded in this world and in the world to come, because I restore the rights of the oppressed.
"The word 'Ashmawi' is derived from the name of the first executioner – Ahmad Al-'Ashmawi. People say 'Ashmawi,' but the official title is 'District Hangman' – the hangman who carries out the death sentence in this district.
"A person does not become an 'Ashmawi' just like that. He needs to observe people carrying out executions, and then he develops an inclination towards it. He needs to want to do it. Nobody can be forced to do this job. He needs to want to do it, and then he accompanies them year after year, until there is an execution, and someone just retired – and so he replaces him. One hangman is replaced by another hangman. I replaced one of my colleagues, and now I am teaching another colleague. I accompany him now as a supervisor.
"The first time it is a little difficult, the second time it gets a little easier, but from then on, it becomes run-of-the-mill. It's no different than a cameraman. That's his job, and he likes it. Like anyone who is trying to make a living, he goes to work, and prepares the chains and the ropes.
"Since 1990, I have personally carried out about 850-870 executions. We have a notebook in which we list... We have large chambers – large enough for three, five, or seven people. There's no room for emotions or feelings of injustice, and so on. I do my job to the best of my ability, and that's it. I don't go into the details. I don't even know the reason for the execution. When I go out, they tell me.
"My line of work as an executioner has no effect on my personal life. The proof is that people come up to me on the street... You'd have thought people would consider an executioner to be grumpy. A man's job is one thing, and his personal life is another. The first time children came to my kids at school... Once, they saw my picture in a newspaper, and the kids wanted to be friends with my children, and were proud of them because their father was a celebrity."
Urni's Son: "I Want To Hang People Like He Does"
Ahmad, son of Hussein Urni: "I want to be like my father. I know that he only hangs people who have done something wrong. I want to hang people like he does."
Hussein Urni: "I hope that one of my children will follow in my footsteps."
Ahmad: "In school we are treated normally. Sometimes, my friends want to be closer to me, because my dad is an 'Ashmawi.' I am the only one whose dad is an executioner, so they call me 'Ashmawi.' When I get into trouble, I usually tell my dad. This is how they raised me. He doesn't beat me. I'm used to telling him everything that happens, good or bad."
Urni: "When the Punishment Is Light, Some People Become More Criminal"
Hussein Urni: "The night before an execution, I go and sleep there. I wake up in the morning, carry out the execution, and go home, as if nothing happened, as if I just got back from a walk.
"When I get back, I spend time with my friends. I drink tea with one friend, coffee with another... We play backgammon... The other business is over and done with. That's one thing, and this is another.
"Even if the death penalty is abolished all over the world, it will still be implemented in Egypt. This is my opinion. When the punishment is light, some people become more criminal.
"May Allah protect us from disease. That's all I ask for. God's protection is the most important thing. As for disease, I hope that when it is my time to go, I will go healthy."
Egypt's Executioner: Strangling Has Been My Hobby Since Childhood, I Just Love My Job
The following are excerpts from an interview with Egypt's official executioner Hajj Abd Al-Nabi. The interview was posted on the Internet on September 8, 2013.
To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here.
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi: "I am the executioner of the Arab Republic of Egypt. I hold the rank of chief warrant officer in the police and the prison authority. I am Egypt's executioner, responsible for carrying out the death penalty." [...]
"I love people, and people love me, but when I am doing my job, I am carrying out the law of Allah." [...]
"When it comes to carrying out my job, I am tough. The murderer has done an abominable thing, and I cannot be soft with him. If I were soft towards this criminal, I wouldn't be able to execute him, but when I'm at home, with my kids, I am as calm as can be." [...]
"I have placed [the noose] around some 800 heads – tough people, big people, young people... All the despicable crimes – killing, adultery, premeditated murder, and so on... I carry out all the death sentences.
"In all honesty, I love my work. I just love it! I never say 'no' when they need me at work. This is my work and my livelihood." [...]
"When I was young – about 13 or 14 years old – the dry Ismailiya Canal in Shubra Al-Kheima still had water in it. My hobby was to catch a cat, to place a rope around its neck, to strangle it, and throw it into the water. I would get hold of any animal – even dogs. I would strangle these animals and throw them into the water – even dogs."
Interviewer: "That was a long time ago..."
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi: "Yes, when I was 13 or 14 years old. Strangulation was my hobby. When I applied for the job and did well on the tests – proving that I could take the psychological pressure and so on – they said: 'Congratulations. Now, grow a moustache. '"
"The truth is that my heart is dead, because executing comes from the heart, not the moustache. Only if you have a heart of stone can you be content in this line of work." [...]
"My parents were hard on me. They would say: 'This will get you to hell!' I would say to them: 'The cat bit me,' 'The cat bit some kid,' 'The dog bit a boy in the leg, and the leg got infected.' I became the enemy of all things harmful to Mankind."
Interviewer: "So you were violent as a boy..."
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi: "I was a little Satan..."
Interviewer: "Did you strangle many kids you were playing with?"
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi: "Whenever I would place my hands around a kid's neck, I would go soft when I remembered that it was a child, not an animal."
Interviewer: "So you had a disposition toward this job from a young age..."
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi: "It's a gift."
Interviewer: "Strangling is a gift?"
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi: "A great gift. I love my job very much, and I can't give it up. Even when I retire, I will report for duty in emergencies. I will leave this job only when I am dead." [...]