Inside 'Islamic State': A Raqqa diary

By Mike Thomson
BBC News


In areas controlled by the group that calls itself Islamic State the penalty for speaking to the Western media is death by beheading, so it took courage and conviction for Mohammed to compile this diary of life in Raqqa, the capital of IS's self-proclaimed caliphate.

Having seen friends and relatives butchered, his community's life shattered and the local economy ruined by these notorious extremists, Mohammed (not his real name) believes he's fighting back by telling the BBC what is happening to his beloved city.

1. The day IS first entered my beloved city

Mohammed finds his father dead and mother badly injured following an air strike. After expressing his anger about beheadings in the streets, he is sentenced to 40 lashes. (Like many Arabic speakers, Mohammed refers to IS as "Daesh".)

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A Raqqa resident describes daily life under so-called Islamic State.

2. Militants are roaming the streets looking for spies

Mohammed is lashed, witnesses extortionate tax demands made by IS (which he calls Daesh) and sees a young woman stoned to death in a hole by the roadside.

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3. I need to stop dreaming and focus on staying alive

A neighbour's house is bombed, IS bans shops from selling televisions and Mohammed struggles to afford food for his family.

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4. Sentenced to death for missing a Sharia class

Prayer checks are carried out on the streets, a man is ordered to attend compulsory Sharia classes because his trousers are too long and Mohammed is advised to focus on the future and forget about the present.

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5. I see a man who has been crucified and beheaded

Heavily taxed foods gather dust in the shops. Mohammed tries to comfort the worried mother of a friend whose son has been arrested. When his decapitated body is found outside her home Mohammed decides it's time to leave Raqqa.

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At various points during the compilation of these diaries my producer on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and I were unable to contact Mohammed, and alarm bells began ringing. Sometimes five or six days would pass without any response to our questions about whether he was all right and able to carry on.

On one occasion news reached us of the murder of two Raqqa activists who had escaped to Turkey. Having managed to flee across the border from Syria they probably assumed they were safe. But both were found beheaded. IS later claimed responsibility.

Happily we managed to make contact with our diarist a couple of days later and heard he was still alive and well in Raqqa. But at least eight other anti-IS activists have been killed in this way, most of them inside Syria.

Since IS took control of Raqqa, just over two years ago, the city has become ever more isolated from the outside world. Civilians are banned from leaving the city without permission, watching international TV, or talking by phone to anyone considered an enemy of IS.

To help reduce the risks to our diarist we have withheld his name and done our best to remove anything thing from his account that might lead to him, or those he knows, from being identified. Some other details from his diaries have also been changed where necessary for similar reasons. But there is no way to completely protect anyone who chooses to speak out in the way that he and his fellow activists do.

His courageous diaries give the world a rare and valuable glimpse of day-to-day life in the heart of IS's now infamous capital.

Animation: Scott Coello

Producer: John Neal

Researcher and Translator: Nader Ibrahim, BBC Arabic Service social media producer

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