Although the US-led worldwide coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a Kurdish-Arab alliance from the world — declared victory over the Islamic State once they took management of its final strongholds in al-Baghouz in March 2019, the worldwide pleasure over eliminating the terrorist group has not reached the individuals of Raqqa, the previous capital of the caliphate, the place IS appears to nonetheless wield vital affect.
Many of the town’s individuals are nonetheless living in fear of the militants. Even if they can’t management the world as they as soon as did, many IS cells are terrorizing civilians with bombings in residential areas, assassinations and threats regardless of the hundreds of SDF troopers within the space.
Hassan Abdullah (a pseudonym), a automobile vendor and a father of three in Raqqa who most well-liked to not reveal his actual id for fear of retaliation by IS or arrest by the SDF, lives in a rented home after the worldwide coalition raids destroyed his household’s home throughout the battle to expel IS from Raqqa.
Abdullah advised Al-Monitor that residents are much more afraid of IS than earlier than. “IS still exists,” he said. “In September 2020, I got a phone call from a private number. The first thing I heard was: ‘We are the Islamic State, and we know that you make a lot of money from the car trade, and you have to pay zakat to us, or we are going to kill you,’” referring to a standard Islamic charitable donation.
During its rule, IS would take cash from civilians within the title of zakat. But based on locals, it was only a approach to acquire taxes from the group IS managed.
Abdullah mentioned the decision felt like his worst nightmare. “I did not believe it at first, but after three days they contacted me via WhatsApp, and they sent me photos of the entrance to my house and from inside my shop. They even sent me a photo of one of my children! At that point, I could not ignore the matter. I spoke to some friends, but was shocked to find out that three out of five of them had also paid money under threats, but they did not dare tell anyone for fear of assassination by IS or arrest by the SDF on charges of financing terrorism.”
Al-Monitor tried to contact SDF officers for remark, however to no avail.
There was no different choice for Abdullah however to pay IS, which is understood for assassinating outstanding figures in Raqqa in broad daylight.
Following IS’ directions, Hassan took $5,000 to the assembly website, the place he discovered two masked IS members on a bike on the street between Jazrat al-Buhumaid and Abu Khashab, an space within the western countryside of Deir Ez-Zor. He delivered the bag of cash at gunpoint.
Mohab al-Nasser, a human rights activist and researcher from Raqqa, defined that between 2014 and 2017, many individuals joined IS for the month-to-month wage however didn’t battle. However, right now, those that have remained with IS are true believers within the terrorist group’s ideology, they usually have gained navy expertise from the battles in opposition to the worldwide coalition.
Nasser advised Al-Monitor, “For two years, the SDF has failed to maintain security in al-Hol camp [which houses IS fighters and their relatives in eastern Syria], as there have been hundreds of cases of smuggling of dangerous women members of IS and assassinations using pistols inside the camp, despite the heavy security that the SDF claims to provide there.”
Nasser explained, “The arrests of some IS cells in northeastern Syria are carried out based on intelligence from the international coalition, but the SDF takes credit for the operations.”
The southern countryside of Raqqa has also had its share of terrorism. Khalil, the brother of two men who were brutally killed by IS on the outskirts of the regime-held town of Maadan, recounted to Al-Monitor, “In July 2020, IS contacted my two brothers, who were shepherds. The organization requested a payment of four million Syrian pounds [$3,200] from each of them as zakat for our sheep.”
Khalil, who did not want to reveal his full name, said that his brothers decided to inform the Syrian regime but local security forces took no action, claiming the threats were empty.
“My two brothers refused to pay and ignored the repeated threats until November, when we found them executed with two bullets in their heads while they were herding sheep at night in the Maadan area,” Khalil said.
Other local civilians from the area confirmed the similar killings of at least eight other people, including women: following a series of threats and demands of money.
Nasser believes that IS poses a much greater danger today is greater than when it declared the caliphate. “When the organization was in Raqqa, it was hard for IS members to hide as they would go to the group’s main headquarters, but today we are facing a completely unknown enemy,” he said.