Life inside ISIS-controlled Syria

Swedish newspaper Expressen found two brave women willing to risk their lives to provide undercover video showing what life inside ISIS-controlled Syria is like now.


CNN published a short clip Monday using footage from the Expressen story but the full clip (see below) provides a much better sense of the fear, brutality and complete irrationality that rules the streets of al-Raqqah. Sharia law is strictly observed at all times. The women who agreed to film this video for Expressen would certainly be stoned to death if discovered. Discovery is a real possibility because ISIS has female religious police walking the streets to insure everyone behaves appropriately. For women, that means wearing a niqāb at all times when outside and never going anywhere alone.

Anyone not following the rules is flogged or imprisoned. And if you are unlucky, the punishment is death. A woman must be accompanied by another woman or a male guardian.

She should avoid walking down the middle of the street. She should walk in such a way that does not draw attention – preferably by creeping along next to the side the buildings.

A woman may not speak loudly or show her hands and is forced to cover her entire body with a double burqa.

“Cover your eyes properly. We don’t want the Hisbah women to see us. I don’t want us to get in trouble,” Om Mohammed whispers to her friend Om Omran as they walk along al-Rashid Street in central al-Raqqah.

A key aspect of ISIS’ rule is brutality. One of the women describes how a prisoner was executed in public then beheaded and then had his head posted on a pole. But even that is not enough for ISIS:


Here at the roundabout in front of them, hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people have been killed.

“Some bodies are laid out on the road. Then they force cars to drive over them until there’s nothing left of the body. The body becomes like a rag,” says Om Mohammad.

The women also discuss a man they knew who was accused of being gay. He was sent to a school for religious education where he was force to memorize the Koran, but afterwards ISIS decided to execute him anyway by throwing him from the roof of the tallest building in the city. The clip ends with one of the women saying how much she misses her life before ISIS:

“I long for the time when I can remove both the niqāb and the darkness that comes with it, permanently. I long to be able to dress as I want, like I used to do before. I long to walk down streets without being scared and without seeing weapons or foreigners who scare us. I want to live the way I want. I want to buy what I want. I want to go out alone, free and without having a guardian with me.”

“Nothing matters more than freedom,” says Om Mohammad.

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David Strom 10:00 AM | April 17, 2024