His name may not be widely known or recognized. Abdullah Al-Bishi is a Saudi national who inherited the position as an executioner from his father. Yes; this is one of the men who have learned the art of beheading. He is an executioner for Makkah and his son, Badr, has been accepted in the same kind of profession in Riyadh. I find it interesting that here are three consecutive generations who not only have chosen but take pride in their position and the skill required to conduct (execute) a clean execution.
Saudi Arabia uses public beheading as the punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, sodomy, armed robbery, apostasy and certain other offences. 2007 has been the record year for executions with 153 men and three women executed. Forty five men and two women were beheaded in 2002, a further 52 men and 1 woman in 2003 and 35 men and a woman in 2004. Executions rose in 2005 with 88 men and 2 women being beheaded and then reduced to 35 men and four women in 2006.
The condemned of both sexes are given tranquillisers and then taken by police van to a public square or a car park after midday prayers. Their eyes are covered and they are blindfolded. The police clear the square of traffic and a sheet of blue plastic sheet about 16 feet square is laid out on the ground.
Dressed in their own clothes, barefoot, with shackled feet and hands cuffed behind their back, the prisoner is led by a police officer to the centre of the sheet where they are made to kneel facing Mecca. An Interior Ministry official reads out the prisoner’s name and crime to the crowd.
Saudi Arabia uses a traditional Arab scimitar which is 1000-1100 mm long. The executioner is handed the sword by a policeman and raises the gleaming scimitar, often swinging it two or three times in the air to warm up his arm muscles, before approaching the prisoner from behind and jabbing him in the back with the tip of the blade, causing the person to raise their head. (see photo) Then with a single swing of the sword the prisoner is decapitated.
Normally it takes just one swing of the sword to sever the head, often sending it flying some two or three feet. Paramedics bring the head to a doctor, who uses a gloved hand to stop the fountain of blood spurting from the neck. The doctor sews the head back on, and the body is wrapped in the blue plastic sheet and taken away in an ambulance. Burial takes place in an unmarked grave in the prison cemetery.
Beheadings of women did not start until the early 1990’s, previously they were shot. Forty three women have been publicly beheaded up to the end of 2007.
Most executions take place in the three major cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dahran. Saudi executioners take great pride in their work and the post tends to be handed down from one generation to the next.
Beheading is as humane as any modern method of execution if carried out correctly and a single blow is sufficient to decapitate the prisoner. Consciousness is probably lost within 2-3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of the “intracranial perfusion of blood” (blood supply to the brain). The person dies from shock and anoxia due to haemorrhage and loss of blood pressure within less than 60 seconds. However, because the muscles and vertebrae of the neck are tough, decapitation may require more than one blow. Death occurs due to separation of the brain and spinal cord, after the transection (cutting through) of the surrounding tissues, together with massive haemorrhage.
It has often been reported that the eyes and mouths of the decapitated have shown signs of movement. It has been calculated that the human brain has enough oxygen stored for metabolism to persist for about 7 seconds after the head is cut off.
Beheading requires a skilled headsman if it is to be at all humane and not infrequently, several blows were required to sever the head. It took three blows to remove Mary Queen of Scot’s head at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. In Britain, beheadings were carried out by the “common hangman” and were relatively rare so he had very little practice or experience, which often led to unfortunate consequences.
Saudi executioners pride themselves on their skill and efficiency with the scimitar.
The prisoner is usually blindfolded so that they do not see the sword or axe coming and move at the crucial moment. Again, this is why in both beheading and guillotining it was not unusual for an assistant to hold the prisoner’s hair to prevent them moving.
In any event, the results are gory in the extreme as blood spurts from the severed arteries and veins of the neck including the aorta and the jugular vein.
All the European countries that previously used beheading have now totally abolished the death penalty.