By satellite phone and email, people living in ISIS-controlled Raqqa, Syria, say fighters have stolen their houses, killed family members and even forced them to pay rent on properties they already own.
RAQQA — The ISIS terror group has transformed Syria’s Raqqa province into what can only be described as an enormous prison. The Islamist fighters prohibit most people from traveling beyond the borders, even to other provinces, and communication with the outside world is limited.
Raqqa has also become a gathering place for the thousands of foreign fighters from dozens of countries who now dominate ISIS’s ranks. Locals say they have become virtual slaves to these extremist militants, who use brutal methods to maintain control. They also say that many have died at their hands, although the claims are impossible to verify. ISIS is also alleged to have seized thousands of houses from Kurds and others in the towns of Tal Akhdar, Tal Fandar and al-Yabisa, near the Tal Abyad area. These they have given to their fighters, who have come from around the world, including Uyghurs from China. Similar incidents have been reported in other parts of the province.
To understand what's happening inside Raqqa, Syria Deeply spoke by satellite phone and email with people living in the province. These are their stories.
"My brother, cousin and my brother’s friend were killed before my eyes when ISIS fighters stormed our house. They encircled the house and shot dead my brother, his friend and my cousin, who were trying to flee the house. Another bullet hit my 9-year-old sister. After they searched the house, they found nothing unusual there.
"Later, my 14-year-old cousin and I were arrested and taken to a basement that was used as a detention center. One ISIS fighter asked me whether I smoked. I said no. He sniffed my clothes and did the same with my cousin.
"I was pretty sure he was from the Arabian Gulf because of his accent. He said, "I know you are secretly selling tobacco." I answered, "Is this why you killed my brother and cousin?" A week later, we were released, and nobody did anything about what happened to us."
– Ibrahim, a university student