Instagram shuts accounts asking followers if captured ISIS fighters should 'live or die'

You can be the judge, jury, and executioner of captured Islamic State (ISIS) fighters, even though you are probably thousands of miles away from the worn-torn regions in the Middle East.

An Instagram account by the handle of @iraqiswat is asking its followers to decide the fate of ISIS fighters who have been captured on the battlefield.

According to US military veteran news website Task and Purpose, the account is manned by Iranian-backed Shia militia who are fighting ISIS.

In an unfiltered photo posted on March 28, a bloodied man is seen being dragged by fighters.

The haunting caption reads: "We have arrested one of ISIS in south of Mosul. You can vote for kill him or let him go. You have one hour to vote. We will post his fate after one hour (sic)."

Within two hours, the photo had over 700 likes, and 261 comments, mostly exhorting the militias to kill the disheveled man.

"Thanks for vote," reads the caption from the next photo posted on @iraqiswat two hours later. The photo showed a selfie taken by a militia, and a body in the background, slumped in a pool of blood.

Other pictures posted on the account, which managed to amass nearly 80,000 followers before its closure, show before-and-after photos of ISIS fighters who were caught, and their subsequent fate after being sentenced by the online mob.

As news spread of the Instagram account, the account 'celebrated' the publicity and asked followers to "please tag your friends for more live revenge vote video killing ISIS with no mercy (sic)".

Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher into Shia armed groups, told The Guardian that the Instagram account was rehashing old pictures from other sources, such as Iraqi government soldiers and Iranian-backed Shia militia.

The New York Daily News also said that @iraqiswat, together with its backup account, "@IraqiSwat2," is a hoax.

Haidar Sumeri, an Iraqi security analyst, told the New York Daily News: "It's a fake account run by kids who don't live in Iraq. Most of the images they post are taken from Facebook accounts of fighters or from YouTube videos."

Sumeri added the photos would undermine public perception of the Iraqi government's efforts to fight ISIS.

The photos also appear to portray war crimes, Gideon Boas, who served as a senior legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, told The Guardian in an interview.

Instagram has since deleted both accounts for violating its community guidelines.

grongloh@sph.com.sg