CONFLICT ART tusiime-children

Part of figuring out what makes ISIS tick is knowing what life is like for those living in their capitol city of Raqqa, Iraq, an obvious western power target.  A NY Times journalist tracked down women who escaped from Raqqa to learn about their first hand accounts for this 11/21/15 article by Azadeh Moaveni, titled. “ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape.”

the NY Times interviewer reportS:
  • The three Syrian women interviewed for this article, all former members of the Islamic State morality police who escaped to Turkey this year, met with a reporter in a southern Turkish city for hours of interviews, together and separately, over the course of two multiday visits.15isiswomen-web-master675
  • The names Aws, Dua and Asma are pseudonyms used for their protection, but they fully identified themselves and their family connections. (As of 2015, the girls’ ages are between 20 and 25 years old.)
  • Their accounts of working for the Islamic State, of their lives and of events in Raqqa, Syria, in recent years were consistent with one another and with interviews and accounts of other former and current residents of Raqqa.Raqqa
  • The women also shared cellphone images of locations in Raqqa, and of their lives there, that were independently confirmed.
  • Dua  (story) had only been working for two months with the Khansaa Brigade, the all-female morality police of the Islamic State, when her friends were brought to the station to be whipped.”Raqqa

    “The police had hauled in two women she had known since childhood, a mother and her teenage daughter, both distraught. Their abayas, flowing black robes, had been deemed too form-fitting.”

    “Dua sat back down and watched as the other officers took the women into a back room to be whipped. When they removed their face-concealing niqabs, her friends were also found to be wearing makeup. It was 20 lashes for the abaya offense, five for the makeup, and another five for not being meek enough when detained.”

    A lifelong friendship, with shared holiday gatherings and birthday parties, was suddenly broken.”

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    “In the short time since she had joined the Khansaa Brigade in her hometown, Raqqa, in northern Syria, the morality force had grown more harsh. Mandatory abayas and niqabs were still new for many women in the weeks after the jihadists of the Islamic State had purged the city of competing militants and taken over. At first, the brigade was told to give the community a chance to adapt, and clothing offenses brought small fines.”

    “Raqqa is widely known now as the capital of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate and as the focus of heavy airstrikes by a growing number of countries seeking revenge for the group’s recent terrorist attacks. But the city in which the three women came to adulthood used to be quite different. The women spoke for many hours, recalling their experiences under Islamic State rule and how the jihadists had utterly changed life in Raqqa.”

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    “When the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began rippling across Syria in 2011, it seemed distant from Raqqa.”

    “All three belonged to a generation of Syrian women who were leading more independent lives than ever before. They mixed freely with young men, socializing and studying together in a religiously diverse city with relatively relaxed mores.”

    At the start of 2014, everything changed. 

    “The Islamic State wrested full control of Raqqa and made the city its command center, violently consolidating its authority. Those who resisted, or whose family or friends had the wrong connections, were detained, tortured or killed.”

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    “The Islamic State has come to be known around the world by names like ISIS and ISIL. But in Raqqa, residents began calling it Al Tanzeem: The Organization. And it quickly became clear that every spot in the social order, and any chance for a family to survive, was utterly dependent on the group.””Not only had Raqqa residents become subjects of the Organization’s mostly Iraqi leadership, but their place in society fell even further overnight. As foreign fighters and other volunteers began streaming into town, answering the call to jihad, they became the leading lights of the shaken-up community. In Raqqa, the Syrians had become second-class citizens — at best.”

    SYRIA Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi

    “Dua, Aws and Asma were among the lucky: The choice to join was available to them. And each chose to barter her life, through work and marriage, to the Organization. when none of them subscribed to its extreme ideology, and even after fleeing their homes and going into hiding, they still struggle to explain how they changed from modern young women into Islamic State morality enforcers.””The day Abu Muhammad, a Turkish fighter for the Islamic State, walked through Aws’s front door to seek marriage, she made her first concession to the Organization.”


    (Aws was told by her Father) “that she could see him at a second meeting if he offered a suitable dowry. By the time her father called her in, she had already nervously decided to say yes, for her family’s sake.””After their wedding, she was surprised to find that the marriage felt real — even affectionate. Abu Muhammad liked to tease her about her accent when she tried to pronounce Turkish words.” (But he would be missing for days on ISIS missions.)


    “She tried to keep busy by socializing with other fighters’ wives. Among them, she felt fortunate. Some were married to men who were abusive. And even they were considered luckier than the captured women from the Yazidi minority, who were being smuggled into town as slaves for other fighters.”

    ‘Mostly, though, Aws’s days became an intolerable void. She was bored and thoroughly unhappy. There was nowhere to go. New books were nearly impossible to find after the jihadists banned almost all fiction, purging the bookshops and local cultural center.”


    “The Organization also cast a long shadow over her marriage. Though Aws had always wanted a baby, Abu Muhammad asked her to take birth control pills, still available at Raqqa’s pharmacies. When she pressed him, he said his commanders had advised fighters to avoid getting their wives pregnant. New fathers would be less inclined to volunteer to carry out suicide missions.”

    “For Dua’s family, money had always been an issue. Her father was still farming, but many lawyers and doctors who had lost their jobs when the jihadists took over had also started selling fruits and vegetables to get by, creating new competition. The Organization imposed taxes, which cut further into the family’s income. When a Saudi fighter came to ask to marry Dua, in February 2014, her father pushed her to accept.”


    “The Saudi, Abu Soheil Jizrawi, came from a wealthy construction family in Riyadh and promised to transform Dua’s life. She deliberated and eventually agreed. She met him for the first time on their wedding day, when he arrived bearing gold for her family. She liked what she saw: Abu Soheil was light-skinned with a soft black beard, tall and lanky, with charisma and an easy way of making her laugh.””He set her up in a spacious apartment with new European kitchen appliances and air-conditioning units in each room — almost unheard-of in Raqqa. Each morning, Abu Soheil’s servant shopped for her (and another fighter’s wife) and left bags of meat and produce outside the door.”


    “While a little light, at least, had come into the lives of Aws and Dua, Asma’s living room in Raqqa was perpetually dark and stifling. She kept the curtains drawn and windows closed so that no one would know she had her television on inside. Television, music, the radio — everything was kept at the lowest volume she could hear. Even that escape was becoming scarce for Asma as electricity in Raqqa dwindled to two, sometimes four, hours a day.””The Organization decreed that the Internet could be used only for critical work, like that of the painstaking recruiters who went online to woo new fighters and foreign women to Syria. Asma, who had previously been on her laptop a few hours each day, found herself disconnected from the world.”

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    “In February 2014, two months into her marriage, Aws decided to join the Khansaa Brigade. Dua joined around the same time, and they started their compulsory military and religious training together.””The cousins had their misgivings about joining. But they had already married fighters, choosing to survive the occupation of Raqqa by aligning with the Organization. Working with the brigade was a chance to do more than just subsist, and it paralleled their husbands’ work. And the full extent of the brigade’s oppressiveness would only emerge with time.”

    Raqqa ISIS parade

    “A number of Asma’s relatives had already started working for the Islamic State in various ways, and she deliberated carefully before joining in January 2014. With her family already enmeshed with the Organization, it seemed the most logical choice.”“For me, it was about power and money, mostly power,” Asma said, switching to English to describe those motivations. “Since my relatives had all joined, it didn’t change a great deal to join. I just had more authority.”

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    “At night, Aws and Dua heard attempts at self-justification from the husbands they had waited up for and would go to bed with. They had to be savage when taking a town to minimize casualties later, the men insisted.”

    “All three women attended the training required for those joining the Khansaa Brigade. Roughly 50 women took the 15-day weapons course at once; during eight-hour days, they learned how to load, clean and fire pistols. But the foreign women who had come to Syria to join the Islamic State were rumored to be training on “russis,” slang for Kalashnikov assault rifles.”

    “Religion classes, taught mainly by Moroccans and Algerians, focused on the laws and principles of Islam. Dua, for one, was pleased; she felt she had not known enough about Islam before the Organization took over.”

    TUNISIAN 07iht-m07-jordan-art-thumb-blog427“By March 2014, Aws and Dua were out every day on the brigade’s street patrols, moving about the city in small gray Kia vans with “Al Khansaa” on the sides. There were women from across the world in the brigade: British, Tunisian, Saudi, French.”

    “But both within their unit and more broadly across Raqqa, the Organization had issued a strict decree: No mingling between natives and foreigners. The occupiers thought gossip was dangerous. Salaries and accommodations might be compared, hypocrisies exposed.”

    Syrian children line up for a free Iftar meal in Raqqa, Syria. (File photo)

    “Status within Raqqa — how it was derived and how it was expressed — was becoming a grievance. As women, our status depended on his status,” Aws said, referring to husbands in general. Among the male fighters, this had been clear from the beginning: Salaries, cars, neighborhoods and housing were allocated in large part by nationality.”

    ‘It soon became clear that the foreign women had more freedom of movement, more disposable income and small perks: jumping to the front of the bread line, not having to pay at the hospital. Some seemed to have unfettered Internet access, including multiple Twitter profiles.”

    “The foreign women got to do whatever they wanted,” Asma complained. “They could go wherever they wanted.”


    “Maybe it’s because they had to leave their countries to come here — it was felt they should be treated more specially,” Dua said, as usual more reluctant to criticize.”

    “The Organization had no outlet for grievances. It seemed to operate by stealth, and being married to its fighters offered no real information about its operations and ambitions. Senior figures like the caliph himself, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were never seen in public. Even within Raqqa, he remained a shadow, the women said.”

    CONFLICT ART Middle-East-street-art “Asma’s role in the Khansaa Brigade involved meeting foreign women at the border with Turkey, 50 miles north, and accompanying them into Raqqa at night. With her smattering of English and cosmopolitan air, she was well suited to the task. She would receive a slip of paper with names, and the crew — two or three brigade women, an interpreter and a driver — would start up the highway.”

    “Many women were arriving from Europe. One spring night this year, Asma and her crew received three British girls, dressed in Western clothes but with their hair covered. “They were so young, tiny, and so happy to have arrived, laughing and smiling,” she recalled.” (After foreigners arrived and were settled, they never saw each other again.)

    “One spring day in 2014, the women in Dua’s police unit went to one of the city’s main squares to watch the stoning of two local women, supposedly for adultery. Dua refused to go. She did not like how the militants prized spectacle over correct implementation of Shariah law. “In Islam, you need four witnesses to the act to carry out such a punishment,” she said.”

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    “By the time the trees blossomed that spring, it was common to see the heads of captured soldiers and people accused of treason hanging in the main square near the clock tower. But most who had stayed in Raqqa were either too afraid to rebel or had no desire to.”“We saw many heads being cut off,” Dua recalled.”

    “You saw the heads — it was just the heads you saw,” Aws corrected her.

    “Well, it is forbidden in Islam to mutilate bodies.”

    “I saw bodies that lay in the street for a whole week.”

    CONFLICT ART 11 untitled“Girls who were fighting would go to the Organization and accuse their enemies of some infraction,” Aws recalled.”

    “Their job, inflicting fear on their neighbors, was agony. That everyone was probably two-faced was the only reliable assumption.”


    “One week in July 2014, Dua’s husband, Abu Soheil, did not return for three nights. On the fourth day, a group of fighters knocked on her door. They told her that Abu Soheil had blown himself up in a battle against the Syrian Army at Tal Abyad, on the border with Turkey.”

    “She tried to console herself with the thought that it was honorable to be a martyr’s wife. But days later, she learned a fact that made things even harder to bear: “He died fighting other Muslims.”

    “Just 10 days later, another man from her husband’s unit came to the house. He told Dua she could not stay home alone and would need to marry again, immediately.”

    “Again, the Organization was twisting Islamic law to its own desires. Under nearly universal interpretations of Islam, a woman must wait three months before remarrying, mainly to establish the paternity of any child that might have been conceived. The waiting period, called idaa, is not only required but is a woman’s right, to allow her to grieve. But even in the realm of divine law, the Islamic State was reformulating everything.”

    CONFLICT ART 376f6cc74753e92bd2d39a762b4e2c9f“I told him that I still couldn’t stop crying,” Dua said. “I said: ‘I’m heartbroken. I want to wait the whole three months.’ ” But the commander told her she was different from a normal widow.”

    “She knew she had to escape, even though it would mean leaving the house that should have been her inheritance.”

    “The news came for Aws not long after it did for Dua. Abu Muhammad had also killed himself in a suicide operation. There was no funeral to attend and no in-laws to grieve with. She was devastated.”

    CONFLICT ART a74e5f35-92af-4483-a168-d63dddaeee71“She had no time to recover before the Organization came knocking. “They told me that he was a martyr now, obviously he didn’t need a wife anymore, but that there was another fighter who did,” Aws said. “They said this fighter had been my husband’s friend, and wanted to protect and take care of me on his behalf.”

    “She agreed reluctantly, despite being short of her three-month waiting period. When he ran off with his salary two months later, without even a goodbye, Aws was left abandoned, denied even the status of widow. Back at her parents’ house, she wandered from room to room, grieving for the life she had had before and stunned by how far away it seemed from where she had fallen.”

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    “To the outside world, the territory controlled by the Islamic State might seem to be a hermetically sealed land governed by the harshest laws of the seventh century. But until relatively recently, the routes into and out of Raqqa were mostly open. Traders would come and go, supplying the Organization’s needs and wants — including cigarettes, which some fighters smoked despite the fact that they were banned.

  • “When Aws decided to leave four months later, she contacted Dua and was put in touch with the man who had helped Dua get out.”Dua, unable to bear another forced marriage, left first. Her brother made calls to Syrian friends in southern Turkey who could meet her on the other side, and the siblings boarded a small minibus for the two-hour ride to the Tal Abyad crossing early this year. The two passed through without being questioned.”

    “The man is part of a network in southern Turkey that has made a cottage industry of extricating people from Islamic State territory. When Aws got to the border crossing, one of the man’s colleagues was waiting with a fake identity card that showed her to be his sister if she should be stopped.”

    “By early this past spring, Asma was agonizing about whether to flee as well.”

    “Raqqa had been transformed. Before, she would see someone she knew every 20 paces; the city felt small. But those who could afford to had fled. On the job in public, she was surrounded by strange faces and foreign accents.”

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    “She felt her identity was being extinguished. “Before, I was like you,” she told a reporter, waving her arms up and down. “I had a boyfriend. Even in Syria, we wore short skirts and tank tops, and all of this was normal.”

    “When she and a cousin plotted their escape, they told no one, not even their families, and took nothing but their handbags. A friend guided them through three checkpoints, and finally, just after 1 a.m., they arrived at the border crossing. They showed their ID cards and murmured goodbye.”

    “The car meeting them on the other side looked gray in the moonlight. They got in and drove away from the Islamic State.”


    • GRAZIE MILLE!! Thanks a million for your continuous support and for reblogging this again. I made an error by stating this is part v, but skipping part IV. I will post part IV tomorrow in the morning. Enjoy your day!!

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