Two women took undercover video in Raqqa to show how they live under ISIS rule
The video shows a deserted city with little traffic and armed men walking about
Syria's civil war has raged for five years killing more than 250,000 and displacing millions, UN says
Two Syrian women took a hidden camera through the northern Syrian city of Raqqa to document their life under ISIS rule, knowing they faced execution should they be discovered, according to CNN Swedish affiliate Expressen TV, which commissioned the video.
Fully covered and wearing face veils, they shop, take a taxi and walk around neighborhoods, showing a deserted city with little traffic and some armed men walking about.
“Everyone’s left,” they say, because airstrikes on Raqqa have intensified. “Foreign ISIS fighters have set up checkpoints, taken the ID cards of Syrians and use them to flee to Turkey,” the women say.
Five years after the start of the civil war in Syria, Raqqa – the capital of ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate – has fundamentally changed. The war has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people nationwide and displaced more than 10 million, according to the United Nations. ISIS captured Raqqa in 2013.
The video was taken in late winter, according to Expressen TV, and shows the rubble of what once was the Uwais al-Qarni shrine, important to both Sufis and Shia Muslims.
Passing by the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, distinctive by its geometric facade, one of the women notes ISIS has turned it into the Islamic police headquarters.
Gruesome public executions
Throughout the video, the women, whose voices are disguised, recall the violence they have witnessed, including the beheading of a young man.
“I could see there was a man sitting on the ground,” says Oum Mohammad, the name used by one of the women. “The executioners were lined up, they were dressed in black.”
She said she tried, but couldn’t watch the execution.
“They execute with bullets, desecrate the body, decapitate it, stick the head on a spike and put it on display at the roundabout,” she says. “Or they will put the body on the road and force cars to run it over until nothing is left.”
Strict Islamic law
The women say ISIS has imposed hardline Islamic law in a city once considered Syria’s most liberal.
Alleged homosexuals now are subject to being killed; women have lost many of their rights and have to cover their bodies and faces.
“All women like to show their faces. We’ve lost that option. We’ve lost our femininity,” Oum Mohammad says.
To show the length to which ISIS has gone in enforcing its laws, the women go shopping for hair coloring only to find that all the faces of the models on the packaging have been covered with black marker.
The women’s hidden video also shows parts of Raqqa where the wealthy lived before ISIS drove them out. Now, mostly foreign fighters and their families occupy the nicer homes and apartments, the women explain.
“They are from Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Saudis, Europeans, from places in France,” Oum Mohammad says, “but the majority is from Saudi Arabia.”
The women want the world to understand in hopes that one day they will be free.
“I long to take off the niqab and the darkness that cloaks us,” one woman says. “Nothing matters more than freedom.”
CNN’s Pierre Meilhan, Samira Said, Michael Holmes and Alba Prifti contributed to this report.