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By W. Gardner Selby September 5, 2014

Ted Cruz says ISIS crucifying Christians in Iraq, nailing them to trees

We were unaware of a horrible turn against Christians in Iraq until U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz brought it up.

The Texas Republican, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, recently told a reporter for WFAA-TV, Channel 8 in Dallas, that the Islamic State group, in the news for numerous acts including killings of two U.S. journalists, is "right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees."

Crucifixions as in killing someone by nailing or tying his or her hands and feet to a cross or, as Cruz said, a tree?

Cruz, news stories offer no evidence

We emailed Cruz’s office about how he knew of the crucifixions and received no evidence in reply.

Our own research did not uncover news stories confirming the crucifixion of a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere while U.S. advocates and experts on the bloody conflicts in Iraq and Syria expressed unfamiliarity with such actions.

But Christians, along with people of other faiths, have been in the crossfire of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

On Aug. 8, 2014,  a CNN news story said Iraq's largest Christian town had been overrun by ISIS, causing thousands of Christians in the city to flee, just as other minority groups targeted by ISIS had done, as well as Shiite Muslims, the story said.

CNN said the French government confirmed the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh had fallen into the hands of ISIS. The story said ISIS earlier took over Mosul, another city in Iraq, prompting many residents to flee to Qaraqosh. In Mosul, CNN said, ISIS issued an ultimatum to Christians living there: Convert to Islam, pay a fine or face "death by the sword."

CNN’s story noted the Pope saying on Twitter Aug. 8, 2014: "I ask all men and women of goodwill to join me in praying for Iraqi Christians and all vulnerable populations."


A few weeks later, CNN described young boys being trained by ISIS at a camp in Syria and, according to a participant identified only as Mohammed, witnessing a crucifixion. According to the Aug. 29, 2014, news story, some boys were forced to watch hideous things. "They used to bring young (kids) to the camp to lash them," Mohammed said. "When we go to the mosque, they order us to come the next day at a specific time and place to [watch] heads cut off, lashings or stonings."

"We saw a young man who did not fast for Ramadan, so they crucified him for three days, and we saw a woman being stoned (to death) because she committed adultery," Mohammed said.

Featured Fact-check

Experts: Crucifixions possible, not observed yet

Close observers of the turmoil in Iraq and Syria said they could imagine ISIS doing crucifixions. No one expressed awareness of Christians already being crucified.

By email, Daniel Sullivan of a Washington, D.C.-based group, United to End Genocide, noted the CNN story before telling us he hadn’t seen "confirmed reports in either Iraq or Syria" of Christians being crucified.

Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said Cruz’s claim went overboard, as far as he knew, though he said ISIS has been ruthless about hurting or killing resistant residents.

"There have been people put on crosses," Landis said. "But it’s not Christians."

Landis guided us to an April 29, 2014, Fox News story accompanied by photographs of men slung on crosses in Raqqa, a town in northern Syria. The story cited a Syrian opposition group,  Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, saying ISIS jihadists were hanging the bodies of executed enemies on crosses crucifixion-style in the town. The story, citing "multiple reports," said ISIS had ruled over Raqqa for the previous year, killing its remaining rebel population and demolishing national relics.

The news story said Ibrahim Alrquaoui of the opposition group said the killed men were rebels that had previously fought against the Syrian government of Bashir al-Assad. The story said that according to Alrquaoui, the ISIS charged the seven men with espionage and attempted assassination of the group’s leaders. According to the story, Alrquaoui said he witnessed the executions himself and took photographs, which were then posted on the group’s Facebook page and circulated on the Internet.

The photographs showed different men bound to crosses in what appeared to be a public square area, though the Fox News story said it could not be independently confirmed the subjects were dead or, if they were, by what means the executions had been carried out. "The pictures do not show any apparent signs of the men nailed to a cross, nor are there any obvious, visible signs of fatal wounds," the story said.

Landis also pointed out a Feb. 26, 2014, online post by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an Oxford University student, describing a traditional practice in Islam for a Jew or Christian living under the authority of an Islamic state agreeing to pay a jizya, or poll tax, in return for protection from the state. The Feb. 26, 2014, post, on Landis’ website devoted to Syrian politics, history and religion, said the tax is equivalent to Mafia racketeering; a failure to pay leads to the loss of protection. ISIS similarly imposes the tax, the post said, in northern Iraq and Syria.

By telephone, Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute specializing in the military and security affairs of the Levant and Iran, told us he monitors videos from Iraq and Syria and is familiar with the ISIS practice in Syria of hanging a body from a post after a killing. (That’s not a crucifixion as that act is commonly defined.) But, White said, he hasn’t seen videos of anyone nailed to a tree -- in Iraq or elsewhere. Cruz’s claim "doesn’t accord with what I’ve seen," White said.

Our ruling

Cruz said ISIS is "right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees."

Earlier this year, ISIS strung up the bodies of individuals already executed on cross-like posts in a Syrian town. We did not confirm ISIS crucifixions of Christians in Iraq nor did Cruz give factual backup.

We rate this claim False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

News stories, "ISIS overtakes Iraq's largest Christian city,"  "Who are the religious and ethnic groups under threat from ISIS?," CNN, Aug. 8, 2014; "CNN Exclusive: A 13-year-old witness to ISIS' beheadings, crucifixion in Syria," CNN, Aug. 29, 2014  (accessed Sept. 4, 2014)

Email, Daniel P. Sullivan, director of Policy and Government Relations, United to END GENOCIDE, Sept. 4, 2014

News story, "Al Qaeda-linked jihadists accused of hanging victims on crosses," Fox News, April 29, 2014 (accessed Sept. 4, 2014)

Blog post, "The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’s dhimmi pact for the Christians of Raqqa province," Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Syria Comment blog, Feb. 26, 2014

Telephone interview, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Sept. 4, 2014

Telephone interview, Jeffrey White, defense fellow, the Washington Institute, Washington, D.C., Sept. 4, 2014

Email, Catherine Frazier, press secretary, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Sept. 4, 2014

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Ted Cruz says ISIS crucifying Christians in Iraq, nailing them to trees

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