Residents of the Syrian city of al-Raqa tell Diyaruna they are living under increasingly dire conditions as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) ramps up its criminal practices after losing Manbij.
At the same time, they said, many ISIL members have been forced to move their families to al-Raqa due to the group's territorial losses, compounding economic pressures and food shortages in the city.
Since the start of the military operation to liberate Manbij, the pressure ISIL has put on al-Raqa residents has increased to "unbearable levels", al-Raqa native Amjad al-Mohammad told Diyaruna.
"Surveillance has become more stringent than before, with the setup of dozens of checkpoints inside the city and at its entrances, as well as the tight surveillance of surrounding fields," he said.
ISIL elements have established a heavy presence inside the city, he said, and conduct random raids of establishments such as Internet cafés, storming in and shouting at everyone to raise their hands in the air.
"They then inspect to see what the café patrons are doing, and arrest anyone found browsing news websites or social media containing news that is hostile to the group," al-Mohammad said.
The group’s elements also have been conducting raids of homes in search of satellite dishes, which ISIL has banned, he said, though satellite dishes remain on the roofs of the homes of ISIL elements and their families.
Additionally, al-Mohammad said, ISIL has resumed its practice of public punishment in full force, and has been executing people in the city’s public squares.
The group executed seven people in one month, he said, including a 15-year-old boy, al-Harith Abdullah al-Majeed, from the city of al-Tabqa, who the group charged with "apostasy" and working with the liberating forces.
"The site of most of these barbaric acts is the clock roundabout, and those executed by beheading include Mohammed al-Elaiwi and his son Muhannad who were accused of working with the coalition," he said.
Media reports indicating that ISIL has issued a pardon clearing the names of those accused of working with hostile parties are untrue, al-Mohammad said.
"It appears the group was behind these reports, as they included a call by the group for residents who are accused of such acts to present themselves to the religious police office to confess and obtain the pardon," he said.
Even if this was true, he said, the city’s residents do not trust the group at all, and would not be so foolish as to turn themselves in as "they know that the punishment for such a charge is execution by beheading".
In recent weeks, al-Raqa native Wael Mustafa told Diyaruna, the group has stepped up the confiscation of the homes, land and shops of residents who fled the city, under the pretext that they had escaped to the land of the unbelievers and are considered apostates.
"The economic situation in the city and its rural areas is dire because of the scarcity of supplies entering the city due to the battles raging in more than one region," Mustafa said, adding that this has been exacerbated by the growing number of people who have been displaced to the region.
The city is currently overflowing with thousands of newcomers, he said, including civilians and the families of ISIL elements who fled Manbij, Deir Ezzor, and al-Sweida.
Several areas of the city have witnessed significant tension between Syrian and foreign ISIL elements, al-Raqa salesman Hamad Matar told Diyruna.
The group refuses to retrieve the bodies of its Syrian fighters killed in battle, for example, while recovering the bodies of foreign elements, he said.
"Further tension also has risen due to medical negligence, as foreign fighters receive full medical care, while Syrians’ need for medical care and surgeries is ignored," he said.
Tension also prevails in areas where residents joined the ranks of ISIL, he said, because the news has been completely cut off, and it appears the group has stopped informing parents of the death of their sons.
It has become very difficult for residents seeking to flee the city, Matar said, since the group tightened surveillance of the outer edges of the entire region.
The group recently hunted down a group of smugglers and detained two, he said, who were subsequently executed in the city centre next to the museum on the charge of smuggling people outside the boundaries of ISIL's "caliphate".
ISIL elements hung a sign on the chest of a third detainee, Abdel-Rahim al-Jaber, and paraded him on the back of a truck, while the remaining smugglers disappeared and are believed to have left the area permanently, he added.
This effectively closed the last exit from al-Raqa, he added.