Saudi Arabia's top executioner says he loves his work and considers himself an agent of "God's law."
In a rare interview with the news media, executioner Muhammad Saad Al-Beshi explained that he is sometimes called upon daily to administer capital punishment with a sword to several people, many of them convicted of religious offenses in the Islamic theocracy.
"It doesn't matter to me two, four, ten as long as I'm doing God's will, it doesn't matter how many people I execute," Al-Beshi told Arab News. "In this country we have a society that understands God's law. No one is afraid of me. I have a lot of relatives, and many friends at the mosque, and I live a normal life like everyone else."
Public executions are common in Saudi Arabia, where offenders can die by the sword for crimes like murder, rape, drug smuggling, armed robbery, homosexuality and practicing "witchcraft." Men are beheaded with a single sword stroke, but women can choose to be shot instead. (Only men are executed in public.) For lesser offenses, convicted criminals may face amputation of arms or legs.
Al-Beshi said he always visits the family of a condemned criminal and urges them to seek forgiveness on behalf of the criminal.
"I always have that hope, until the very last minute, and I pray to God to give the criminal a new lease of life," he said.
Just before the execution, the condemned are told to recite the Shahada, the core Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."
Al-Beshi would not say how much he is paid, but did remark that his sword is worth thousands. He keeps it sharp, and his children sometimes help clean it off after executions.
Remarked Al-Beshi, "It's very sharp. People are amazed how fast it can separate the head from the body."
Despite the bloody nature of his work, Al-Beshi, 42, expressed great pride in his position and said he is grooming his 22-year-old son, Musaed, to be an executioner.
"There are many people who faint when they witness an execution," Al-Beshi said. "I don't know why they come and watch if they don't have the stomach for it. Me? I sleep very well."
Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, confirmed the details of the story for The Washington Post.
"Being an executioner is an ugly profession, but somebody has to do it," he said. "The death penalty is the death penalty, and it's the way we have done it for centuries. It's a punishment that sends a powerful message to those who want to commit murder, rapes, terrorism or drug smuggling. And it's working. Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world."