Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nick Berg Beheading Video Analysis


Forensic Analysis of Berg Decapitation Video

Date: 13 May 2004

This investigator was furnished with two versions of an Internet video playable in a .wmv format which was downloaded from the al Ansar jihad website by Northeast Intelligence Network Analyst Laura Mansfield on 11 May 2003. The video was 5 minutes 37 seconds in length and was approximately 5.3 megabytes in size. Using an industry accepted method of capturing this video to a computer hard-drive, this investigator captured the entire file that would enable frame-by-frame analysis.

This investigator isolated the decapitation scene from the time initial physical contact was made by the individual holding the knife (but not close to the victim) through the final frame of the video. In total, approximately 460 individual frames were viewed, although only 330 frames were analyzed due their relevance to this analysis.

Nick Berg as he appeared in the video
Nick Berg as he appeared in the video
The victim depicted in this video appears to be a Caucasian male in his mid to late 20s, medium build, with dark hair and an untrimmed beard. No distinguishing or identifying marks on the victim were noted. He is shown in this video wearing an orange jumpsuit or similar style garment and was seated on the floor, legs out in front of him slightly bent at the knees and his hands were positioned or tied behind his back. His legs appeared to be bound at the ankles by rope or similar material.

There is a time stamp noted in the bottom right corner of the video. The first frame displays the time in a military format beginning at 13:26:25 (1:26 PM). At that time, the victim was seated in a white or light colored chair as he was videotaped by an unknown individual. There is an apparent edit point or video stoppage where the time switches to 14:18:XX, at which time the victim continues to be seated in the same chair as previously described. The video then exhibits a stoppage or edit point, next showing the victim seated on the floor in front of a group of six masked and hooded individuals. Almost immediately upon this scene change, the time display in the lower right corner of the frame was switched from military to regular format (i.e. from 14:18:XX to 2:18:XX). Following this series of frames, there appears to be another stoppage or edit point where the victim is still seated on the floor in front of the line of individuals, however the time displays 2:40:13 in regular format. The male in the center, standing directly behind the victim, is observed reading from sheets of standard size white paper.

The next remarkable event takes place at 2:43:XX, when (what appears to be) the first significant movement of the victim, where he appears to raise his shoulders and slightly adjusts his position. Noted in the next series of frames is the change of time from regular" format to military format, occurring at 14:44:14. Following this, the primary assailant, standing in the center background, removes a knife appearing to have an eight to ten inch blade from under his garments from his chest area with his right hand and swiftly places his left hand on top of the victim's head, grabbing his hair. The victim was pushed onto his left side by the primary assailant and assisted by the unidentified individual wearing a white hood/mask combination (this male was originally standing on the right side of the primary assailant).

As the time displays 13:45:47 in the lower right corner, the victim is pushed onto his left side where his legs are bent at the knees and raised toward his chest and his arms still tied behind his back. At this point, the video becomes out of focus and essentially useless for the purposes of analysis from approximately 90 frames. As the video comes back into focus, the primary assailant is viewed using the knife to cut the throat of the victim, beginning at the area near his left carotid artery. Almost immediately, blood is seen pouring onto the floor (target surface) from the wound caused by the incision.

The primary assailant is shown using the knife in a slicing fashion, cutting the front of the victims neck (throat) first, followed by a combination of circular and sawing motions with the knife around the victims neck while still holding the victim by the hair.

Notably, there appears to be an edit point or video stoppage where the video displays 13:46:XX. At this point, it is evident that the primary assailant is no longer holding the knife. The individual wearing the white hood and previously standing on the right side of the primary assailant is now using the knife in a saw-like manner, holding the knife in (his) right hand while holding the victims hair with (his) left hand. At 13:47:xx, the individual wearing the white hood ultimately detaches the victims head from his body and holds the head outward in (his) left hand, still holding the knife in (his) right. Following this series of frames, the video appears to jump frames (possibly due to uploading the video to a computer) and displays the time as 13:48:43, at which time the victims head is shown completely detached and the primary object in the footage. Interestingly, the time display on the video changes to 2:46:20 (regular time format) and then switches back to 13:48:45 (military format) while the victims head is shown detached from his body in a similar series of frames.

Excerpted from issue 9 ofNortheast Intelligence Network HQ INTEL-ALERT

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