Inside an ISIS religion camp: How I survived the grip of terror
(The National) As US-backed forces move to take the last remaining areas from ISIS, the militant group that once exacted brutal control across swathes of Syria and Iraq, The National has asked two activists and journalists to speak about their experience of living under the group's dark rule. These accounts are published alongside analysis and news looking back at the years-long war against ISIS and to what the future holds for a group defeated on the battlefield but far from wiped out.
I am a media activist in Deir Ezzor. When the uprising in Syria first started in 2011, I went to live in neighbourhoods controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and started working with the rebels. Nearly three years later, when fighting erupted between the FSA and ISIS in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, I turned my lens towards the violations that militants were committing against the FSA. I started to document the battles between the FSA and ISIS. I visited battlefronts and started to shuffle between the towns which were starting to fall in the hands of the militant organisation. Friends and people I loved were shot by ISIS. I saw dead bodies.
The war was intense and ISIS was fighting ferociously. Even when ISIS took over most of Deir Ezzor in 2014, I continued to work as a media activist in secret despite the risks and threats involved. I escaped death several times. I survived several ISIS raids and checkpoints. But I always feared that my mobile phone would be confiscated. My phone was my death sentence. It contained all the reports I was filing against the group.
In order to avoid suspicion, I registered in one of the Al Tawbat institutes, a doctrinal camp set up by militants for those who wanted to ‘repent’ and pledge allegiance to the group. I filled out an application and submitted it to the group.
Kurdish-led forces seized the Islamic State's main hub of Hajin on December 14, a milestone in a massive and costly US-backed operation to eradicate the jihadists from eastern Syria.