Repression comes in black where Islamic State rules
In the Syrian stronghold of Islamic State, everything is black, from men’s turbans to women’s veils. Even the passports.
“Black IS flags are everywhere. Women are covered from head to toe in black burqas, and can only leave the house in the company of their fathers, brothers or husbands,” said Abu Yusef, an activist from Raqqa province, which Islamic State considers its headquarters.
Islamic State members parade on the streets with their weapons – usually Kalashnikov rifles or pistols – while non-members are not allowed to own arms, he said via the internet.
They exert control over every aspect of life, with men and women controlled by separate security forces.
“The Khansaa brigade is composed of women IS members. They are armed, and have the power to stop and search any woman on the street,” said Abu Yusef. “[Their] version of Islamic law is imposed by the men’s Hesbeh brigade.”
Islamic State also has “ministries for everything you can imagine: education, health, water, electricity, religious affairs and defence. All the ministries occupy ex-government buildings”.
Education was based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, and military training camps for young boys had been set up in Raqqa, Abu Yusef said.
“There is even a consumer protection authority,” he said.
Activists in Raqqa have frequently complained that the jihadis have access to recreation but forbid it for others.
They post photographs online showing jihadi-filled coffee shops in Raqqa, while complaining that non-fighters are not allowed to enjoy public spaces.
In Deir Ezzor, where locals tried in vain to keep Islamic State out, none of the coffee shops remain open.
“Nothing good or fun is allowed,” activist Rayan al-Furati said. “It is impossible to even imagine anyone smoking, or anyone selling tobacco products. It is impossible to see a woman without a full veil. And every day, when themuezzins call for prayer, everybody closes their shops and goes to the mosque, or else they face detention.”
For the group’s jihadis, however, life in Islamic State-controlled parts of Syria is good.
The lowest cadres were paid US$300 a month, said Raqqa-based activist Furat al-Wafaa, using a pseudonym.
“In the current circumstances, that’s a lot of money.”
Wafaa said the group’s generosity did not extend to those under its rule.
“Daesh [Islamic State] is not really a state. It gives its members all the services they want, but other citizens get no part in that.
“It’s a mafia that rules through terror. And people are forced by hunger to join, because that’s the only way to get a proper salary.”
At the same time, Islamic State collects taxes.
“Even those too poor to pay have to comply. So people are joining because they face the choice of starving, or joining in the extortion,” he said.
Shopkeepers impoverished by a nearly four-year war paid some US$60 a month in tax to Islamic State, he said.
Deir Ezzor’s Furati, meanwhile, likened Islamic State to a settler movement that had displaced the local population.
“Just as Israel occupied Palestine with settlers, the same thing has happened here,” said the activist, who like tens of thousands of residents recently fled Deir Ezzor for fear of persecution.
“You have foreign jihadis, even Americans, living with their families where we once lived,” said Furati, using a pseudonym.
The jihadis have kept the oil and gas fields, electrical plants and dams running.
They pay employees an extra salary to continue working, adding to their uninterrupted wages from the Syrian government.
Nael Mustafa, another activist still living in Raqqa, said the jihadis had no qualms about raiding homes and searching phones and computers for evidence of “immoral” practices.
“They believe that everything belongs to God – and therefore comes under their control.”
- Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan yesterday said dozens of hostages held by Islamic State in Iraq had been freed with no ransom paid.
“A bargain for money is totally out of the question. There were only diplomatic and political negotiations. And this is a diplomatic victory,” Erdogan said.
The 46 Turks were abducted in Mosul three months ago. Erdogan described their release as a “secret rescue operation” by Turkey’s spy agency.
Asked whether hostages had been exchanged for Islamic State militants, Erdogan said: “It doesn’t matter whether there was a swap or not. The most important thing is they are back and reunited with their families.”
IS MILITANTS ADVANCE ON KURDISH TOWN
Islamic State militants closed in on Syria’s third-largest Kurdish town yesterday as tens of thousands fled in terror across the border into Turkey.
The UN refugee agency said as many as 70,000 Syrian Kurds had poured into Turkey since Friday, and solidarity protests by Turkish Kurds on the border prompted clashes with security forces.
Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by reinforcements from Turkey are battling to hold off a jihadist advance on the strategic border town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds.
Local officials have warned of potential massacres should IS extremists advance on Ain al-Arab and pleaded for an international intervention. But despite US promises to expand its air campaign to Syria, there were no signs yet of US strikes in the country.
IS fighters have been advancing on Ain al-Arab since late Tuesday, hoping to cement their control over a large part of Syria’s border with Turkey.
Yesterday, they were within 10km of the town, after capturing more than 60 villages in the area, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said. The fighting has killed at least 27 Kurdish militants and 39 IS jihadists, and Kurdish fighters from Turkey have crossed into Syria to join the fray.