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ISIS Sends a Message

What Gestures Say About Today’s Middle East

A Syrian living in Jordan gestures during a protest in Amman, October 2011. Majed Jaber / Courtesy Reuters

A masked man brandishes a severed head in one hand. In the other, he raises an index finger, a commonly understood symbol for the number one. 

His name is Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, a failed London rapper turned jihadist, a British militant fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State. British authorities suspect him of murdering American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley. In August, Bary posted a gruesome picture -- from a different killing -- on his Twitter account for the world to see.

The curious thing was not the head Bary held in his left hand -- however ghoulish the trophy -- but the gesture he made with his right. For followers of ISIS, a single raised index finger has become a sign of their cause, and it is increasingly common in photographs of militants. Some have even gone so

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