Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently
Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RSS or RBSS) is a Syrian opposition group of political activists based in Turkey, reporting human rights abuses by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other forces occupying the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. ISIL uses Raqqa as its de facto capital. RSS reportedly works to counter the suggestion that citizens of Raqqa have welcomed the presence of ISIL. Some sources have described the group as an one of the few reliable sources of information from the city. RSS is criticised for an ideology and agenda of ethnic Arab supremacism, and for even siding with ISIL in the pursuit of it.
The group has published first hand accounts, videos and photos of life and war crimes in Raqqa through its Facebook page and website, other social media, and via interviews and furnishing material to media organizations worldwide. As a result, RSS has been cited by international media outlets fairly extensively, and major news outlets have done feature stories on the group. Since no foreign or domestic journalists can operate in Raqqa, the efforts of RSS provide unique insights. The work is dangerous, with ISIL militants searching for, torturing and in at least one case killing, RSS members.
The group and its members have been accused of being anti-government, anti-YPG, anti-Kurdish and anti-SDF. They have been also accused of having links with the Turkish authorities, making pro-ISIS propaganda and ethnic chauvinism.
It is known that Abdul-Aziz al-Hamza, one of the founders of the RBSS, backed the ISIS while it was attacking the Kurdish town of Kobane, calling Kobane Ayn al-Islam, a name only used by ISIS. Abdul-Aziz al-Hamza had said “ISIS now sweeping the rest of Ayn al-Islam to purge the last remnants of communist PKK (Kurdish) forces,” in his tweet on 8 October, that he deleted later.
On 6 November 2016, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched a military operation to capture the city of Raqqa. The RBSS said it is strictly against the military campaign and attacked the female commander of SDF, accusing her of not speaking Arabic "properly". Bader Mustafa, a member of the Kurdish Youth Movement (TCK) said:
- This group [RBSS] has repeatedly asked the world’s help to kick ISIS from Raqqa, but when the SDF started the Raqqa liberation operation, the RBSS started complaining even before the first bullet was fired with endless accusations against Kurds.
The spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces accused the RBSS of distorting events in Raqqa and said the group is “competing with Nazi propaganda and Turkish government propaganda” instead of focusing on the Raqqa civilians liberated from ISIS by the Arab, Kurdish and coalition forces.
According to an interview with VICE News, there were originally 17 members, who started out opposing the Syrian government. When ISIL moved in to the city in April 2014 the group started the posting information about ISIL. One member who had fled Raqqa said "After we launched the campaign and posted a lot of crucifixions and executions on the news and Facebook and Twitter, they made three Friday sermons about us, saying we are infidels and we're against Allah and "we'll catch them and we'll execute them." "We are 12 inside the city and four outside. Before the 12 inside the city were posting on Twitter and posting on Facebook, and talking to journalists, but it's very dangerous. So we decided to use a "secret room," and the people in the city post all the photos, the news, and everything, and the four that are out, we are posting it on the internet, Twitter, and Facebook, and talking to journalists. We hide behind fake names and we don't trust anyone, so we don't get captured."
Several members of RSS have been executed inside Raqqa. In May 2014, Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim was kidnapped by ISIL and murdered. In July 2015, ISIL released a video showing two men being strung up on trees and shot. Though ISIL claimed the two murdered men had worked with RBSS, one of the founders of RBSS denied they were members. Another friend of the group was similarly executed. Hamoud al-Mousa, the father of one of the group's founders, was killed in ISIL custody. On October 30, 2015, RSS activist Ibrahim Abdul Qadir (age 20) and his friend Fares Hamadi were found stabbed and beheaded in Urfa, Turkey. It was the first acknowledged assassination outside of ISIL controlled territory.
On December 16, 2015, masked men murdered RSS member Ahmad Mohammed al-Mousa in the rebel held city of Idlib, Syria.
Naji Jerf, the group's film director and editor-in-chief of the independent monthly Hentah, was killed in Gaziantep, Turkey with a silenced pistol in broad daylight outside a media building in late December 2015. ISIL claimed responsibility on Twitter.
In an interview with Sarah Montague on BBC HARDtalk, aired June 22, 2016, RBSS spokesman Hussam Eesa said, via interpreter, "When we chose to work together against Daesh, documenting its abuses, we understood there would be casualties. However, it's been worse than we expected. It is an inevitable price to be paid. So far we have lost 14 people – four group members and 10 friends and family members. Currently we have 18 inside Raqqa and 10 outside Raqqa."
Soon after the release of a video showing the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, Muath Al-Kasasbeh, RBSS released Google Earth photos they cross-referenced to landmarks pinpointing the location of the execution in the southern part of Raqqa near the river. They also reported that videos of the execution were played for the public on large screens throughout the city of Raqqa.
RBSS detailed that the effects of Russian airstrikes in and around Raqqa were targeting mainly civilian targets, and having little effect on ISIL.
RBSS also relayed reports from the ground of illegal white phosphorus munitions used in airstrikes.
Awards and praise
The group was awarded the International Press Freedom Award in 2015, from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The citation said in part “While RBSS was formed to document the atrocities of [ISIL], its members have also reported critically on the Assad government’s bombings, other rebel forces, and civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led airstrikes”.
Kyle Orton writing for The Independent, said "The risks are extreme. Their bravery quite extraordinary" and wrote "Where [ISIL] presented a functioning, just government, RBSS showed the scarcity and brutality. Not a few foreign fighters ... have gone to wage "five-star jihad" ... only to be disillusioned... that [ISIL] is reportedly having to kill them to stop them leaving. RBSS's work, therefore, offers the chance of preventing people inclined toward [ISIL's] ideology actually going to Syria."
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- "Syria's Raqqa silently slaughtered under ISIL radical rule". en.alalam.ir. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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- David Remnick. "Telling the Truth About ISIS and Raqqa". The New Yorker. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
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- Mark Townsend. "Inside the Islamic State's capital: Red Bull-drinking jihadists, hungry civilians, crucifixions and air strikes". the Guardian.
- "Raqqa Civilians, Hit By New Assad Airstrikes, Tell Stories Of ISIS Executions And Coalition Bombing". International Business Times. 25 November 2014.
- "Life in Raqqa under IS - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
- (CNN interview) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=di0QrhdfmGk
- Ruth Sherlock. "Inside an Isil town". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
- "الرقة تذبح بصمت on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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- https://www.cpj.org/awards/2015/raqqa-is-being-slaughtered-silently-syria.php. Missing or empty
- Speri, Alice (September 25, 2014). "Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, And These Guys Are Risking Their Lives To Document It". Vice News. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
- "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, Syria". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- Loveluck, Louisa. "Islamic State critic found beheaded in Turkey". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
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- "Syrian Journalist Who Documented ISIS Atrocities Is Killed in Turkey". The New York Times. 29 December 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
- "Syrian journalist Naji Jerf shot dead in Gaziantep, Turkey". Retrieved 21 May 2016.
- Kyle Orton (18 December 2015). "As another activist is murdered, the least we owe 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently' is our attention". The Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- Spencer, Richard (4 February 2015). "Anti-Islamic State group says it believes it knows where Jordanian pilot was burned alive". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi. "Russia lied about targeting ISIS". Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- Withnall, Adam (23 November 2015). "Chemical weapon white phosphorous [sic] 'being used in Raqqa air strikes'". The Independent. Retrieved 7 March 2016.