Raqqa: ISIS justifies their escapes, but prevents civilians from leaving

Abdalaziz Alhamza “RBSS”

The United Nation has recently stated that approximately one hundred thousand civilians still remain in the city of Raqqa. These people are trapped inside a city being bombarded daily by barbaric airstrikes and artillery shelling from the International Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Due to dangerous conditions inside the city, people have been attempting to flee with the guidance of local smugglers. However, this method is far from safe, as ISIS has already strategically planted hundreds of hidden landmines throughout the city’s dirt roads. Two to three civilians are killed everyday because of these landmines. But the people of Raqqa truly have no other options, as ISIS has banned anyone from leaving the city. So civilians in Raqqa must choose to remain in the city under daily bombardment and shelling, or attempt to use these potentially deadly smuggling networks.

Reports from inside the city indicate that people are being shamelessly exploited by smugglers who keep raising the prices of passage day by day – especially since the two main over-water bridges exiting the city were destroyed. These reports state that those caught fleeing the city are subsequently arrested and tortured by ISIS. In several cases, the terrorist group has executed smugglers under the charge of “Smuggling Muslims to the land of the infidels (non-believers)”.

In general, civilians who flee Raqqa head north towards the suburbs of the city. The most common location people wind up Ayn Essa Camp, where they are obligated to rent tents at a price of 50 thousand Syrian Pounds. The second most common destination is the Azaz area in Aleppo’s northern countryside.

Although the terrorist group is prohibiting civilians from leaving, ISIS is actually abandoning the city themselves. To maintain the group’s image, the terrorists attempt to publicly justify their departures by claiming to “relocate” or “redeploy” to other sites. In reality, ISIS members are leaving Raqqa neighborhoods one by one as a subtle form of surrender. ISIS continues to state that they are preventing civilians from leaving the city as a method to protect them, when in reality, remaining in the city only exposes them to a greater likelihood of death due to daily airstrikes and artillery shelling.

According to field sources, ISIS fighters rely heavily on underground tunnels prepared earlier to transfer the group’s vehicles and leaders. Almost daily, senior members of the terrorist group are also using these tunnels and other means to flee Raqqa with their own families. Some ISIS fighters are willfully surrendering to SDF, but a large amount continue to believe strongly in their terrorist leadership. As such, many remain in the city – loyal to the Islamic State’s commands.

media activist from the city of Raqqa, student at the Faculty of Law at the University of the Euphrates. Director of the Media Office of Raqqa, founding member of "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently", founding member of the documentary project of "Sound and Picture". I work in documenting violations committed by Assad's regime and ISIS group and extremist organizations inside the city of Raqqa, as I work in programming, design and visual media. I hold a certificate of coach in digital security, and a certificate of journalist coach, and a certificate in documenting violations against human rights, and a certificate in electronic advocacy. I underwent a training under the supervision of "Cyber-Arabs" in collaboration with the Institute for War and Peace "IWPR", about the management of electronic websites and leadership of advocacy campaigns, and a training of press photography under the supervision of the photojournalist "Peter Hove Olesen".