A series of videos smuggled out of Syria’s Raqqa shows strict rule of al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in the town which has turned to a new base for the terrorist group.
The group – which operated under the auspices of al-Qaeda until it recently severed the association – gained full control of the city after lethal clashes with the Syrian army and the its former allies in the Syrian opposition, which left hundreds of dead.
The group has also been one of the most prominent kidnappers of western journalists, a number of whom are reputedly being held in ISIL prisons in Raqqa.
Although the brutal rule of ISIL has been well documented – most recently in an Amnesty International report in December, which detailed killings, arbitrary trials and detention and the abuse of children as young as eight – the new interviews that have emerged provide an intimate and chilling depiction of day-to-day life under the group.
Since taking control of Raqqa the group has banned music, signing and smoking, with the threat of severe penalties for any violators including public flogging.
The videos of life on the streets of Raqqa were recorded by an activist who attached a camera to a car and drove around the town and also interviewed resident who asked for their identities to be kept hidden.
The footage shows the group’s black banner hanging over one of the main streets and the overspill from a mosque praying in a street.
In one segment of the film an unnamed taxi driver is interviewed describing the punishments for listening to music.
For “Fatima” from the Tawsea district of the city the problems have been different.
“After ISIL occupied Raqqa they imposed the full face veil, which is not required in Islam.
“Even at home, when we go out into the balcony, we [have to] go out veiled. We’re not used to this kind of stuff. It is a suppression of personal freedom. We are not used to that.”
The new condition is hard for Syrians to tolerate as they have experienced living freely with different religions in Syria before the western-backed war started in 2011.
Fatima’s comments were echoed by Aisha from the Mashle district.
“After ISIL took control of course the veil was forced on all women. I wear the veil because that is what our religion demands of us. But our religion is tolerant. They can’t cannot impose the hijab. People feel they are being forced to wear the hijab. [I think Muslim women] should wear the hijab but Islam is not the only religion in Raqqa. There are many other religions and [ISIL] should respect that.
“There have been many whippings of women because of this. Some were even executed. People have been plunged into a state of fear and horror.
“And now when we go into the buses they now separate the men and women, and that is unacceptable. Who gives them the right to enforce these things? Our religion is Islam and is nothing close to this religion. Our religion is a religion of guidance. Not a religion forcibly imposed.