Was This Video Staged?

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Last Tuesday, the world was left horrified by one of the most gruesome videos in recent memory — the videotaped execution of American journalist James Foley, apparently beheaded by an ISIS militant in an act of public terror. It sparked worldwide condemnation and drew a harsh rebuke from President Obama. Now questions are being raised about the video's authenticity — at least, according to an international forensics company commissioned by British newspaper The Times. So was the James Foley execution video staged?

To be clear, the company (which has maintained anonymity) isn't disputing the death of James Foley — just that he was executed live, on-camera, in the grisly way ISIS intended to show. While the video is horrible in the extreme — and you shouldn't watch it — here's the basic idea: After Foley gives a brief speech under duress, a black-robed militant takes a knife and beheads him. The identity of the apparent killer isn't known yet, but British authorities using voice recognition technology believe they're closing in.

But this company, which according to The Telegraph has experience working with various British police forces, is alleging that what we saw on the tape may have actually been a deception, and that Foley may have been killed off-camera after the filming was over.

An analyst with the company reportedly told The Times that what the world ended up seeing on ISIS' video may have been the result of "slick editing techniques," highlighting a possible edit during Foley's pre-execution speech, and the lack of expected indicators of a genuine beheading.

After enhancements, the knife can be seen to be drawn across the upper neck at least six times, with no blood evidence to the point the picture fades to black.

The Times-commissioned analysts also identified the sounds Foley made, ostensibly during the beheading, as being unexpected.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images

None of this is to suggest even vaguely that Foley might still be alive. That's not the company's conclusion — in its words: "No one is disputing that at some point an execution occurred," and that's important to keep in mind. That's because this bit of real news is already proving to be fuel for the fire for some popular, wild-eyed conspiracy theory websites (looking at you, Infowars), and that doesn't help anything.

And there's no iron-clad guarantee that this unidentified company's analysis is entirely spot-on. According to Reuters, the FBI told Foley's family they considered the video authentic, though, as with countless government agencies, what's being said and thought behind the scenes is pretty opaque.

But it does raise an unavoidable question: Did ISIS stage-manage a killing to maximize the horror? And if so, is the wildfire-like nature of social media making it easier for terrorist organizations to induce the fears they so desperately want?

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