AIN ISSA, Syria — Escaping the militants gave them some peace of mind but they still think that the militants will come back and take revenge for the defeats. The displaced people of Raqqa are terrified of the Islamic State group.
The residents described public killings, people hanged and thrown off from roofs for minor offenses. Children saw things that are entrenched into their minds – the horror stays with them like a shadow.
Women who are accused of stealing are thrown in boiling oil, said a little girl, another girl interrupted and said that only the woman’s hands were put in the boiling oil as punishment for stealing.
Another child who is around 10 years old said that the fighters abused him for wearing a red T-shirt.
The residents described their experience as something horrific that puts immense emotional and psychological pressure, every day is a constant battle.
“They shoot little boys for minor offenses” said a scared 13 year old girl.
If someone tries to break away from the militant group, they shoot that person – that is the rule.
Ain Issa is a town about 31 miles north of Raqqa. Fearing the retaliation from ISIS, many choose not to speak – a dozen came forward to speak but told false names in fear.
ISIS declared their rule of the “caliphate” – a radically charged version of religious monarchy. The terror resulted from controlling the smallest aspect of people’s lives have taken its toll on the residents of Raqqa. They fear that some of the ISIS members might be among them and will threaten their loved ones.
People have witnessed beheadings and live a fearful life, never knowing when they are next. Many people are still supporting ISIS because of their strong military presence in Iraq and Syria.
According to the United Nations, there are about 190,000 people displaced from Raqqa since April this year. Smugglers ask for money and other valuables to transport people safely out of Raqqa, those who don’t have the means to pay, cannot leave.
People who have crossed the Euphrates River are joyous, they think that their dream has come true.
Abdullah was a laborer in Raqqa, his neighbor was an ISIS member who told him, “Leave this place or I will kill you and your family”, without having the means to escape. Abdullah was saved by a family who were able to pay the amount required for Abdullah and his family to cross the river.
According to Abdullah, it is not possible to win in Raqqa. ISIS has a terrifying reputation among the residents of Raqqa, they believe that they are invincible.
Another woman covered in Hijab came forward and said, “They harassed my 12 year old girl to marry a fighter.” The woman was livid and terrified, “I cannot give up my daughter’s life, she is just a child.”
The residents of Raqqa might be safe for the moment from the ISIS, they have food shelter and a new future, but the fear that led them here will be forever embedded in their hearts.