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Life Under Islamic State Rule: Abu Yousef’s Story, who was Held Captive by the Terrorist Group

Abu Yousef is a former resident of a town near Mosul – a region which Islamic State fighters held for nearly two years

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(Representational Image) On the day Abu Yousef, his wife and their four children arrived at the Khazir camp, a sand storm hit, forcing the exhausted refugees to race into tents, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 1, 2016. VOA
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– by Heather Murdock

Khazir Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, November 11, 2016: A week ago, Abu Yousef arrived at this camp during a dust storm, with his wife and four small children in tow. Relaxed and now without the scruffy beard he grew while living under Islamic State rule, he settled into the relative safety of a camp that has gone from empty to overflowing in just two weeks. A former resident of a town near Mosul – a region which IS fighters held for nearly two years – he told VOA his story, translated here from Arabic:

I was a police officer when Mosul fell to Islamic State militants. When they captured my town, Bashiqa, they made us – police and other government workers – go to Mosul to meet with IS officials and promise to be good Muslims.

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I was surprised, I had been a Muslim for all 30 years of my life. But they said, “You worked for the Iraqi government which is against Islam.” They cursed at us and demanded we give them our weapons.

Islamic State
Islamic State militants have left tunnels and buildings in rubble in all the villages and towns they have been pushed out of, near Khazir camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 7, 2016. VOA

They told us to say “There is no God but the one God and Mohammad is his Prophet” as we often do as Muslims. We didn’t know why we needed to say it at that moment.

[bctt tweet=”But then the militants hugged us and said, “You just became a Muslim.” ” username=””]

How did I just become Muslim?

Arrested

Two months later IS militants came to my house. They said, “Are you Abu Yousef?” I said, “Yes.” They handcuffed me and forced me into a car. After about a 30-minute drive they put me in a cage about a square meter large and left me there for the night. In the morning they took me to a room and sat me in a chair. Sitting opposite to me was a bearded man wearing all white. They called him Sheik Abu Deema – The Father of Blood.

“Why are you an infidel?” the sheik asked me.

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“I’m not, I’ve been a Muslim my whole life, and lately I even renewed my faith with you all,” I said, and then lied to them. “I was with government police before because I needed a salary. It’s the only reason.”

“No, you are an infidel,” said Sheik Abu Deema, “We will cut off your head.”

For the next seven days I was kept in the cage, blindfolded. They took me outside for whippings and beatings and fed me only once a day, a bowl of soup and bread.

Islamic State
Outside Khazir camp, thousands of people wait in line to register in Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 5, 2016. More than 45,000 peoplea are said to have been displaced since the Mosul offensive began more than three weeks ago. VOA

‘Don’t lose this bullet’

At the end of the week, a soldier put a bullet in my pocket, and said, “Don’t lose this bullet. Tomorrow, we will kill you with it.”

The next day someone else approached my cage and demanded the bullet back. “No, take this bullet instead,” he said. “Tomorrow we will kill you with it.” This went on for three days, every day a new bullet. On the fourth day they said “This, yes this, is the day we will kill you.” I believed them.

They brought me back to Sheik Abu Deema and forced me on my knees. They blindfolded me and I heard the sheik bark, “Kill him.” I felt the gun on my head and heard them pull the trigger. But there was no bullet.

Islamic State
An Islamic State document certifies its holder (name blurred out) has pledged to be a true Muslim, according to IS standards. The document is not a pledge to join or work with the group. Khazir camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 8, 2016. VOA

The sheik gave the order again. “Kill him,” he said. The barrel touched my head, and the soldier pulled the trigger. Again there was no bullet. He did this three times.

Then they removed my blindfold, helped me up and said, “Sorry, you are not an infidel. You are our brother.”

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They gave me 10,000 Iraqi dinars (about $9) and I left. But the psychological punishment stayed with me. (VOA)

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Civilians Who Fled Afrin Suffer from Dire Humanitarian Conditions

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People sit in a truck with their belongings in the north east of Afrin, Syria, March 15, 2018. VOA

Thousands of civilians who fled the city of Afrin are enduring dire conditions after they reached Syrian-controlled areas south of the Afrin district.

“More than 2,000 people reached the towns of Nubl and Zahraa from Afrin in the past 24 hours, raising the number of total civilians in the two towns to 16,000. Many are suffering from tragic conditions,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website.

Turkish media announced the control of Afrin on Sunday, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) withdrew from the city and thousands of civilians were evacuated — 59 days after the launch of Operation Olive Branch, the Turkish military operation in Afrin.

ALSO READ: Refugees in India Looming For Basic Rights: Here Is Why India Needs Refugee Law!

The Observatory said Nubl and Zahraa were struggling to provide shelter and food for the large numbers of displaced people pouring into the towns.

Sumama Al-Ashkar, a journalist in Nubl and Zahraa, told VOA that people were residing in houses, mosques, schools, public halls and warehouses.

“The civilians in Nubl and Zahraa are able to get some aid and services, but those who went to Tal Rifat in northern Aleppo are struggling to survive,” he said.

ALSO READ: Gulf, West grapple with Syrian refugee crisis

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Monday expressing deep concern about reports coming from the predominantly Kurdish city in the past 48 hours.

“It appears the majority of the population of the city … evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces. This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” the statement said.

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Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers walk in city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 18, 2018. VOA

Destruction and looting

A number of reports circulated in the media said Turkish-backed forces were destroying and looting public and private properties after they entered the city.

The Afrin media center said once the Turkish-backed fighters reached the town center, they destroyed a statue placed in the center of the city that represents Kurdish cultural figure Kawa the Ironsmith.

“Kawa the Ironsmith is a major historical symbol for the Kurdish people, as it is linked to the most important Middle Eastern holiday, the Nawruz,” Afrin Media Center said.

Footage coming from Afrin also showed Turkish-backed fighters pillaging homes, shops and military sites amidst chaos. They were seen carrying food, electronic devices, civilian cars, farmers’ tractors and livestock.

Members of the Syrian opposition condemned the looting and destruction of the city and called for holding the looters responsible for their acts.

The General Military Staff of the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government of the Syrian opposition, issued a statement Monday calling for the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels to protect civilians and their properties, and to respect religious and ethnic installations in Afrin.

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Turkish soldiers, positioned in the city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 19, 2018, a day after they took the control of the area. VOA

In a comment to CNN, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, did not deny the reports of looting but said the actions were committed by some groups who disobeyed their commanders. He said reports were being investigated.

Guerilla war

On Sunday, Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim told ANF, the Kurdish News Agency, that the fight in Afrin entered a new phase, where the YPG and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) will continue to resist in the district.

Muslim added that the civilians had to leave the city for their own protection and vowed to step up the fight.

“The existence of civilians in the city will impose a challenge for our fighters. Our enemy kills civilians and strikes hospitals, and since the Turkish offensive started, civilians were targeted. Now, the war will continue in a different way after civilians left the city,” Muslim said.

A number of humanitarian organizations and civil society groups working north and east of Syria, including the Kurdish Red Crescent, issued a joint statement calling on the international community to act.

“We plea to the international community to intervene immediately to stop these attacks and let the refugees return to their homes, protect their possessions and civil rights, and deliver aid to thousands of people [who] fled this war,” the statement said Monday. VOA