To shield its elements from coalition airstrikes, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) is forcibly recruiting young men in the Deir Ezzor region to perform hard labour tasks along the battle lines, activists tell Diyaruna.
The men are taken to the frontlines of Deir Ezzor city and the rural areas under the group's control, where they are forced to dig trenches, build sandbag barricades and carry gear, among other tasks, without pay.
Jamil al-Abed, an activist with the Deir Ezzor Under Fire media campaign, told Diyaruna ISIS elements began arresting males under the age of 40 in Deir Ezzor and its surrounding towns like al-Mayadeen and Albu Kamal in early Ramadan.
"They are transported to the frontlines where the battles are ongoing against both the regime and anti-ISIS forces backed by the international coalition," said al-Abed, whose work is temporarily suspended due to pressure from the regime and ISIS, which are both active in the area.
The young men are forced to perform hard labour tasks, including digging trenches and building barricades, under dangerous conditions, while ISIS elements hide, he said.
"This has led the region's men to minimise their movement for fear of being arrested, especially that many of them are their families’ breadwinners," al-Abed said.
They venture out of their homes only when necessary, he added, and try to stay out of sight of the group’s elements.
Al-Abed said the standard pretext used by ISIS elements to justify their actions is that the young men are taking part in the fight against the "infidels".
"They do not care about the lives of the youth, their financial situation or what will befall their families if they do not work while they are away, or if they are killed or injured," he said.
ISIS in state of agitation
ISIS has taken other measures in the region to protect its fighters against airstrikes and sniper fire, al-Abed said, including forcing all shop owners in al-Mayadeen to place sandbags in front of their shops under the pretext of protecting them from shelling.
"The truth is that the group is fortifying the entire city and turning it into a fortress in the event the battles reach it," he said.
ISIS also has bombed high-rise buildings and water tanks on the outskirts of the cities of Deir Ezzor, al-Mayadeen and Albu Kamal to prevent them from being used as sniper positions, he added.
Ever since ISIS came under increasing heat in Iraq's Mosul, "the situation in [Deir Ezzor] has not been the same", al-Abed said.
"ISIS elements are constantly agitated," he said, "which has greatly affected residents, particularly that fleeing the region or moving within it is now near impossible."