Life in ISIS Territory: Civilian Reactions, Communication and the Free Syrian Army

This is part of a series called Life in ISIS Territory that we previously published a year ago. Through various interviews, we spoke to youth from Raqqa about what life is like. This is only one topic covered within the Life in ISIS Territory report. To learn more and to read the entire series, click here.



Civilian Reactions:

ISIS has got some popular support, apparently. Some of our interviewees have given different opinions about it, but it seems like the number of supporters is small, and most of the recruits join for the salary. “When ISIS started, it was a small group in Raqqa, They were almost three or four Arab fighters, and ISIS supporters from Raqqa were people who got out of Saydnaya’s Muslim prison. They were the first members of ISIS in Raqqa. People who supported ISIS were people who had the fanatic thoughts and they were gathered in the same place which is Saydnaya prison in Damascus”.


A, who has escaped with a pullman, told us that every male had to pay to cross every Syrian Army block. In addition, some ISIS militants might check your phone and see your texts. If you have said something bad about ISIS, you will be arrested. In any case, they will delete every file. Further adding to the difficulty of escape, no woman under 50 can get out. Allegedly, there is some age limit for men too, but it is not clear from the interviews we have, and it may have been introduced at some definite point, because some of our sources don’t mention it.

Was Raqqa any better under the Free Syrian Army?

The Free Syrian Army is a rebel group in Syria. It was born from a massive defection of the regular Syrian Army. It certainly appears better than Al-Nusra or other Jihadist rebels. Their troops mainly consist of Sunni Muslims, but there are also Shias, Alawites and Druzes in its ranks, and they have also allied with a mainly Christian rebel group, as well.

From the testimonies of our interviewees, it appears that the group, when controlling Raqqa, had carried a better administration, given free electricity and water 24 hours a day, permitted freedom of speech and reunion, and was generally better than ISIS administration. It would appear that some of our interviewees like the Free Syrian Army over the Syrian government too. However, while we were expecting a clear inclination towards Assad when asking to compare the Syrian Government and ISIS, most said that they are both equally bad.

Other unofficial interviewees, however, have given us additional information. The Free Syrian Army has apparently been cutting landline Internet in Raqqa to force people to buy Al-Thoraya, and (as we believe all armed groups do) they have stolen private property from Raqqan houses during shootouts. The sacking of private property during confronts is a major problem for civilians as to protect their belongings, they would have to stay in the crossfire.

It has also been reported to us that most students prefer to flee rebel areas to get in the regime area because it holds instruction and the basic infrastructures, those that no rebel or the Islamic State could build in a few months.

While some of our interviewees told us that Raqqa’s situation was better under FSA’s control, during a second interview conducted with A, the FSA period revealed to be unsafe, with closed schools and a lot of kidnappings and robbings. What I thought could represent a moderate and secularist group among Islamic fighters and despotic governments revealed to be a semi-criminal organization. To help determine the difference between various rebel groups, we will be furthering this investigation of how people live under FSA control through another article. Also upcoming are articles about Al-Nusra and other groups, as we think that a good way to show a rebel group’s ideology is to show how people live in the controlled territory.

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