Faced with financial troubles, the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) has backed out of its pledge to compensate the families of its slain fighters, sources familiar with the group's situation told Diyaruna.
Instead of receiving the blood money they were promised, the widows of ISIL fighters have been offered work, and have been pushed to send their children to the battlefronts to face the same violent fate as their fathers.
Left penniless by the group, ISIL widows have been forced to flee the areas under its control, sell their possessions to raise money, or accept any type of work they are offered -- sometimes only in exchange for food.
Reports of heavy ISIL casualties have been circulating amid the escalation of fighting in rural al-Raqa, Tabqa and parts of Deir Ezzor, said al-Raqa native Nasser al-Ali, a teacher who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.
It is well known that the families of Syrian ISIL fighters had been promised perpetual financial compensation in the event of the death of the father, brother or sole breadwinner while fighting in the group’s ranks, he told Diyaruna.
"The salaries and compensation incentive was the primary reason and motive for most Syrians who joined the group's ranks," he said.
This is because the "acute deterioration of economic conditions and absence of employment opportunities" due to the war left them with few options, he said.
Widows face 'worst conditions'
"The widows of the group’s elements are living under the worst conditions since the group wriggled out of paying compensation and even stopped paying salaries altogether," al-Ali said.
"Some of the women took up their cases with the security offices and units in which their husbands served, to no avail," he added.
ISIL has tried a different tack with some widows, he said, "and that is to entice them to marry an [ISIL] element in order to persuade them to work for the group for $50 a month, or pressure them to enlist their young children".
"Many women have agreed to enlist children to obtain some money," he said, even though they know ISIL uses children as suicide bombers.
Many women who agree to work for the group are taken to the fronts, where some are made to fight and others are ordered to provide support via the provision of food, weapons and ammunition to the fighters, he said.
It is not surprising that the families of ISIL fighters would find themselves facing these circumstances, said Cairo University professor of international economics Nasser al-Assiouty.
The group has suffered severe losses in recent months and also is grappling with a significant decline in its revenues, he told Diyaruna.
"The international coalition was able to tighten the embargo on remittances, including donations and grants from ISIL supporters around the world, that used to flow into the group’s coffers," he said.
The profit generated from global trade is not reaching the group, he noted, and the sale of stolen oil from the territories under its control in Syria and Iraq has been stopped.
The smuggling and trade of antiquities and agricultural crops that used to yield enormous sums for the group also have been blocked, al-Assiouty said.
Drastic reduction of salaries
In addition to failing to honour its commitment to pay compensation to widows, ISIL has drastically reduced the salaries of its fighters.
Tabqa shopkeeper Hamad al-Nafeh told Diyaruna he has observed this first-hand through his work in the markets of al-Raqa and his interaction with traders who move between ISIL-controlled areas and with customers.
"The salary of a Syrian element is currently only $40 a month, after having been gradually reduced from $500," al-Nafeh said, using a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.
It is common knowledge in and around al-Raqa and Tabqa that every area under ISIL control is scrambling to obtain the revenue it needs, he said.
"The 'emir' of every sector acts individually to secure the funds needed to cover expenses, relying mainly on arrests resulting in fines," he said.
The amounts needed to secure release range from $50 to $100, he said.
Other emergency revenue streams include the confiscation and sale of furniture from the homes of families who have fled the city to escape the group, he said.
"ISIL elements are selling everything they can get their hands on to obtain money, including oil, gasoline and fuel oil at very low prices," he said.
They also have been stripping out power cables from villages in rural al-Raqa to sell, he added.
In recent weeks, al-Nafeh said, some widows of Syrian ISIL fighters have taken advantage of the wave of displacement to flee the area for various camps or small rural villages.
As for the widows of ISIL's foreign fighters, al-Nafeh said, "no one knows anything at all about them".