Mil­i­tants have im­posed a fa­nat­i­cal ver­sion of sharia law, cre­at­ing a jus­tice sys­tem of fear, be­head­ings and am­pu­ta­tions to main­tain con­trol

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEVIN SUL­LI­VAN kevin.sul­li­van@wash­post.com Sul­li­van re­ported from Washington, Lon­don and Jor­dan. Souad Mekhen­net in Morocco and Ber­lin, Love­day Mor­ris, Erin Cun­ning­ham and Mustafa Salim in Iraq, Karla Adam in Lon­don, and Tay­lor Luck in Jor­dan con­tribu

Mil­i­tant oc­cu­piers use an of­ten ar­bi­trary jus­tice sys­tem, which in­cludes be­head­ings, to con­trol mil­lions of peo­ple.

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants dragged the blind folded man into the main square in a town near the city of Raqqa, their self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal in Syria. It was Fri­day, right af­ter prayers, when the mar­ket was filled with peo­ple. The fight­ers loudly an­nounced that the man was a gov­ern­ment spy, and they pulled off his blind­fold so that ev­ery­one could see his face.

Nabiha, a 42-year-old woman who fled the town in April and now lives in a refugee camp in Jor­dan, re­called her dis­gust as she watched the mil­i­tants force the man down on a wooden block nor­mally used to slaugh­ter sheep, then raise a heavy butcher’s cleaver.

“It was just one swing,” said Nabiha, who asked that her last name not be used, fear­ing for her safety. “His body went one way, and his head went the other. I will never for­get it.”

The Is­lamic State uses its bru­tal and of­ten ar­bi­trary jus­tice sys­tem to con­trol the mil­lions of peo­ple who live in its ter­ri­tory. By pub­licly be­head­ing and cru­ci­fy­ing peo­ple sus­pected even of dis­loy­alty, the mil­i­tants have cre­ated a cul­ture of hor­ror and fear that has made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for peo­ple to rise up against them.

“For you out­siders, it might be easy to ask: ‘ Why does the public not protest more against Daesh? Why aren’t more voices speak­ing up against them?’ ” said a busi­ness­man in Raqqa, reached via Skype, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied for his se­cu­rity. “But you are not the ones that have to live un­der and with them.”

Lo­cal peo­ple ruled by the Is­lamic State are sub­ject to the ex­treme laws of po­lice and judges who are mostly for­eign­ers from Tu­nisia, Libya, Saudi Ara­bia, Rus­sia, France, Bri­tain and other coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to more than three dozen in­ter­views with peo­ple who live there or have fled re­cently.

It is im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify those ac­counts be­cause the mil­i­tants for­bid out­side observers from en­ter­ing their ter­ri­tory, and they kill those who try. But they are con­sis­tent with the con­clu­sions of hu­man rights groups and in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts who have stud­ied the Is­lamic State.

The mil­i­tants make le­gal judg­ments based on an ex­treme in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Sharia law. In some places, a fe­male po­lice force is de­ployed to en­force rules for women and or­ders to keep hos­pi­tals, schools and other public places strictly seg­re­gated by gen­der.

Res­i­dents who smoke cig­a­rettes, drink al­co­hol, keep shops open dur­ing prayer time or dress in Western cloth­ing are of­ten whipped pub­licly— or worse.

Yassin al-Jassem, 52, a Syr­ian from a vil­lage out­side Raqqa, said he watched one day as Is­lamic State po­lice caught a neigh­bor’s teenage son smok­ing a cig­a­rette.

“They held his left hand down on a block, and they took a big butcher knife and chopped off his first two fin­gers, the ones he used to hold the cig­a­rette,” he said. “Then they just thre whim into the street and left him to take care of him­self.”

Those sus­pected of spy­ing or

Hik­mat al-Gaoud, the for­mer mayor of Hit, Iraq, smokes at a cof­fee shop in Amman, Jor­dan. Gaoud said he fled from the mil­i­tants in April. “We hate them,” he said.

col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Is­lamic State’s en­e­mies are ex­e­cuted. The killings are gen­er­ally done on mar­ket days or af­ter Fri­day prayers, or at high-vis­i­bil­ity lo­ca­tions, to make sure that the max­i­mum num­ber of peo­ple see the bru­tal­ity.

Yahyah Ha­didi, 26, who fled Is­lamic State ter­ri­tory in July, said the main square in his town near Aleppo in north­west­ern Syria was known as “Judg­ment Square” be­cause of the ex­e­cu­tions there each Fri­day.

“They put up a spe­cial L-shaped pole that they used to hang the bod­ies and the heads. They hung them with butch­ers’ hooks,” he said.

“They want to ter­rify peo­ple. Lots of Mus­lims are good Mus­lims but don’t think like they do, and for that, they slaugh­ter them,” Ha­didi said.

Ahmed Ali Hu­maidi, 19, who also re­cently fled with his fam­ily from Raqqa to Jor­dan, said the mil­i­tants rou­tinely be­head peo­ple in a traf­fic cir­cle in the city cen­ter, im­pal­ing their heads on spiked poles.

“My life had al­ways been okay, and inmy whole life, I never re­ally felt afraid,” he said. “But when I saw that, for the first time in my life, I felt real fear.”

In in­ter­views, some peo­ple said the Is­lamic State’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem was less cor­rupt than the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s in­sti­tu­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad. And in Iraq, some peo­ple have joined the Is­lamic State be­cause Sun­nis of­ten see the Sunni Is­lamic State as prefer­able to the Shi­ite gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad.

Hik­mat al-Gaoud, the for­mer mayor of Hit, Iraq, said he hates the Is­lamic State and is try­ing to re­cruit Sunni tribes­men to fight against it. But he said some Iraqis join the mil­i­tants, say­ing: “The Iraqi gov­ern­ment dis­re­spects me and my wife and my chil­dren. I’d be will­ing to put my hand in with any devil in or­der to live my life with dig­nity. The Is­lamic State is the lesser of two evils.”

But Jassem said the Is­lamic State jus­tice sys­tem is capri­cious and abu­sive. He said three of his neigh­bors were killed be­cause their en­e­mies lied about them to Daesh, as the Is­lamic State is of­ten called in Ara­bic.

“I saw peo­ple use Daesh to get back at peo­ple they were feud­ing with,” he said. “They would go to them and say the per­son they were feud­ing with was a regime spy, and Daesh would just go and kill him on the spot.”

A woman who lives in the Iraqi city of Mo­sul, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, said mil­i­tants there re­cently cut off the hands of four boys, about 14 or 15 years old, who were ac­cused of steal­ing wire to bring elec­tric­ity to their home.

In­ter­viewed via Skype, she also said the mil­i­tants over­heard a man com­plain­ing about the Is­lamic State, so they cut off his ears.

“I am afraid of them,” she said. “I look at them, hold­ing their weapons and knives, and think: ‘They are mon­sters. How did they be­come this way? They took the city from us.’ ”

Another woman from Mo­sul, also in­ter­viewed via Skype, said she wor­ries about the ef­fect on her chil­dren grow­ing up around so much vi­o­lence.

“Last week, my 6-year-old son took a candy bar from his brother. And then he said, ‘Are you go­ing to cut off my hand?’ I wish I had died be­fore hear­ing my son say some­thing like that,” she said.

Another day, she said, she and her fam­ily were in their car when they came upon an ex­e­cu­tion in progress. The crowds were so big that they blocked the road.

“I started cry­ing and cov­er­ing my chil­dren’s eyes,” she said. “I can’t imag­ine their fu­ture. But we can’t af­ford to leave.”

The Is­lamic State’s law-en­forcers also limit cell­phone ser­vice and ac­cess to the In­ter­net.

Ha­didi, from the vil­lage near Aleppo, said for­eign Is­lamic State fight­ers regularly came into the cell­phone shop where he worked and re­viewed his records. Then they would go to the homes of his cus­tomers to in­spect their phones.

He said they pub­licly whipped one teenage boy for down­load­ing mu­sic to his phone, and they ex­e­cuted two oth­ers for hav­ing an im­age of a Syr­ian flag on their phones, sug­gest­ing they sup­ported the gov­ern­ment.

“They think ev­ery­one is a spy,” Ha­didi said.


LEFT: A man ac­cused of steal­ing sits in a jail cell with his hand cut off. The Is­lamic State jus­tice sys­tem is bru­tal, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who live there or re­cently fled. RIGHT: Life is bleak in the Azraq camp, but it is a welcome sanc­tu­ary for those flee­ing the mil­i­tants.


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