On Saturday, the Syrian Civil War forum on Reddit hosted a question-and-answer session with an activist on Raqqa, the city in northern Syria controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham.
Raqqa was the largest Syrian city taken by insurgents when they defeated the Syrian military in March 2013. However, a power struggle between factions soon ensued, with ISIS imposing its authority and pursuing its version of sharia law. The Iraqi-led groups has been accused of abductions, detentions, and executions.
In extracts from the Q&A, the activist — “modwnatalraqqa” on Twitter — discusses life in Raqqa, ISIS’s rule, and the state of the opposition.
It is a vivid picture, with the activist describing events in detail, explaining ISIS’s abuses and killings, and concluding, “When the city was in the hands of the rebels, those were the best days of my life.”
Is the regime using barrel bombs/air raids in Raqqa? There are no videos coming out from there.
Not since ISIS took Ar-Raqqa over.
Is ISIS collaborating with the regime in your opinion in that region?
I am convinced that they are….
There is no strong anti-ISIS position in the regime….ISIS hasn’t taken a single regime-controlled city, only rebel-controlled cities….
ISIS’ idea is “let’s make a state first and ‘cleanse’ it from Sahawat (opposition leaders), then attack the regime”. This is from my speaking to ISIS members.
They definitely have complete control, they even change the prayer times because they pretty much can.
A Chechen jihadist’s video of life in Raqqa, February 2014:
Is there electricity all the time? Who runs the power stations?
Yesterday power was cut for 13 hours in half the city. Government employees volunteer to work in the ministries to keep things running. The regime does pay, quarterly, some in the government sector — but not those in electricity or the fire department.
The electricity and water situation is terrible. Water in Al-Thawra dam dropped 6 meters, electricity and water were down for two days. There’s always water and electricity rationing.
Is there Internet?
No internet for the past year. I’m speaking…through TwoWay. Lots of people have TwoWay but it’s expensive.
Are there any Raqqa residents who joined ISIS, or helped them to come to power?
Ali Moussa Al-Shawaq, AKA Abu Luqman, law graduate from Ar-Raqqa. He is the one who ordered the execution of Abu Sa’ad, an Emir in (the Islamist faction) Jabhat Al-Nusra.
How strongly does ISIS enforce things like anti-smoking or anti-theft? We’ve seen tons of videos of them chopping off limbs for this but behind the scenes, do they really have such a strict zero tolerance policy?
What things have ISIS done that you would consider “good” in Raqqa and how are they trying to capture the “hearts and minds” of the Raqqans?
In my opinion ISIS has done nothing good, except we aren’t being shelled anymore, so that’s the bright side.
They aren’t really trying to win the hearts and minds here. They run the “Da’wah” tents for children, but those are dangerous. They’ve convinced many kids to join ISIS, without their parents’ knowledge. It’s brainwashing.
There’s always a “barrier”between ISIS members and civilians. Today an ISIS guy dressed in civilian clothing went into a store and said, “Could I buy some cigarettes? But I don’t want the ISIS guys to know.” The shop owner closes shop, and hands him a pack. The guy then leaves and calls up an ISIS truck, and they search his shop and burn the cigarettes.
Protest in Raqqa against ISIS, September 2013:
ISIS claims they have brought stability to their areas, and they claim to carry out lots of social works programs for Raqqah residents, refugees etc. How much truth is here to these claims? Is it just ISIS propaganda?
(laughs) ISIS does nothing for residents or refugees. The only thing working in Ar-Raqqa for displaced civilians is the Raqqa Relief Kitchen operated by a local pharmacist. They provide one meal a day for free. It’s financed by individuals locally and abroad.
What did ISIS do to establish a foothold in Raqqa?
When ar-Raqqa was freed, it was (by) Jabhat al-Nusra, there was no ISIS.
After Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS split (in spring 2013), around 90% of the Muhajireen (foreign fighters) joined ISIS. Things were tense in Ar-Raqqa around that time.
The first confrontation that occurred between the FSA (Free Syrian Army) and ISIS, was between Ahfad al-Rasoul (Brigade) and ISIS. ISIS hit Ahfad Al-Rassoul headquarters in Ar-Raqqa with three VBEIDs (vehicle-carried suicide bombs).
The other FSA groups in the area essentially said, “Shit, we need to realign.” AS large part pledged allegiance to ISIS; a second part to Jabhat Al-Nusra; and a third part to Ahrar Al-Sham.
Then ISIS agreed with Ahrar Al-Sham to have Ahrar evacuate from ar-Raqqa, leaving heavy weapons behind. Ahrar agreed. As they were withdrawing, ISIS ambushed them and killed 120 fighters….
ISIS found its place by dismantling the rebels there one by one.
What is the status of Christians in your part of Syria? Who is helping them? Who is hurting them?
When the rebels first freed Ar-Raqqa, around 90% of the Christian population left to the Coast, Al-Hasakah, and to Europe.
When ISIS came, the other 10% left.
Jizya (a tax on non-Muslim residents) did not happen. It was only a “PR” thing to say, “Look how much of an Islamic state we are.”…
The Church of the Martyrs (was) turned into the main Da’wah office in the city. The other church (is a) headquarters. The Armenian school, where I spent grades 1-6, is also now closed.
(An ISIS fighter) stated that ISIS is unpopular in Raqqa but also said that the majority of Raqqans support the government. In your opinion, is this true?
It’s true that no one supports ISIS, but it’s not true that the majority of the people of Ar-Raqqa support the government. It’s evenly split, 50-50, like any other Syrian city….
How can you consider a city liberated when 50% of the people support the government?
For those who love the military boot, yes. They can consider that being freed.
Don’t get me wrong, I would rather the SAA exist in Ar-Raqqa than ISIS. The SAA is corrupt, you can pay them off to get food in, you can pay them off to leave, you can pay them off for anything.
What are your thoughts regarding Jabhat al-Nusra? Are they the same as ISIS, or do you consider them a part of the Syrian Revolution? What are your thoughts on the Islamic Front?
In my opinion, any group fighting to put itself in power, has no place in Syria.
As for the Islamic Front, I believe that their actions are pure, to rid the Syrian people of the regime.
Why do you think ISIS tends towards brutal and horrific acts like crucifixions…, and how do you think ISIS’ foothold in the region will affect development and living conditions in the future?
The reason they are violent is simply to spread terror and have the population succumb in fear. Let’s say you are playing cards, which is illegal…and some ISIS guy hears you say the equivalent of “God damn it”, he’ll have you crucified.
My own friends fear speaking to me, they fear posting likes on my facebook posts, they fear association. They say “we have kids” and we’re afraid and you’re wanted. Even a lot of my family.
If ISIS stays long, we’ll end up like Iraq….
When the city was in the hands of the rebels, those were the best days of my life.
What is your personal…hope for the near future of Syria?
My hope is that the Assad regime is brought down, and Assad executed. That Syria becomes a pluralist civil democracy.
My short-term hope is that the rebels coalesce, and that ar-Raqqa is free of ISIS.