A Look Inside the ISIS Model City “Hell On Earth”
Human heads are displayed on spikes at the central roundabout and crucified bodies hang for days to terrorize local residents.
It’s called Heaven Square, but after the Islamic State (ISIS) group started using the roundabout in Raqqa for gruesome public executions it earned a new name: Hell Square.
In the year since the jihadist group announced its “caliphate” last June, its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa has been transformed into a macabre metropolis.
Human heads are displayed on spikes at the central roundabout and crucified bodies hang for days to terrorize local residents, said Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a Raqqa resident and anti-ISIS activist.
“From the first moment of its control over Raqqa, ISIS adopted a policy of horror and terror, resorting to executions, beheadings, cutting off hands and legs, and crucifixion,” said Raqqawi, who uses a pseudonym.
He belongs to the “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” underground activist group, which documents ISIS abuses in the northern Syrian city and surrounding province.
Activists were among ISIS’s first targets in Raqqa, but Raqqawi and the group’s members have continued to work, providing a rare window into life in one of ISIS’s bastions.
Raqqa was the first Syrian provincial capital to fall from regime control when rebels seized it in March 2013.
But ISIS soon routed those rebels and moved quickly to establish a “model city” under its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, said researcher and writer Hisham al-Hashimi.
ISIS wants to run Raqqa “like a central government, with police, services, justice and education,” he said.
The “good life”
The group has taken over all levels of civil administration, rewriting school curriculums, establishing Islamic courts and creating police units – the male “Hesba” force and the female “Khansa Brigades” – to implement Islamic law.
It has focused heavily on education, closing the city’s schools and universities for a full year while it developed new courses.
Mathematics and English are still on the menu, but little else of the old curriculum remains; courses in jurisprudence, jihad and the Koran have been added.
“What’s the point of physics, chemistry, history or statistics…when we’re learning medicine?” says Abu Abdul Rahman al-Shami, the head of Raqqa’s hospital, in an ISIS-produced video about life in the city.
ISIS has sought to promote an image of the “good life” in Raqqa, with videos showing roads teeming with cars and storefronts full of customers.
It touts the implementation of its version of Islam, with life coming to a halt five times every day for prayers and all residents required to declare their assets and pay “zakat” – Islamic alms.
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