‘Imagine how it feels for an activist to leave his house, saying goodbye to his family as though it is the last time they will meet’

Nearly all of the reliable, detailed information available about life inside the de facto capital of IS’s self-styled caliphate in Syria comes from citizen journalists.

Over the past three months, the Islamic State has killed five citizen journalists from A-Raqqa city.

The most recent was Ruqia Hassan, 30, whose family was informed of her execution for “spying” one week ago. Late last month, Naji Jerf, an anti-IS filmmaker working with the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently media campaign from Turkey, was shot and killed in Gaziantep. No one has claimed credit for the assassination, but the Islamic State is the top suspect.  

“I don’t think anybody knows what it is like to walk along feeling as though somebody is following him, like a shadow, to kill him with a treacherous bullet, the smell of death clinging to everything,” Furat al-Wafaa, an independent citizen journalist in A-Raqqa, tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.

Q: How do you feel as an anti-IS activist from A-Raqqa amidst the ongoing executions of citizen journalists?

I don’t think anybody in the world feels the way the people of Raqqa do, or can imagine how it feels for an activist to leave his house, saying goodbye to his family as though it is the last time they will meet, because he could die at any moment.

I don’t think anybody knows what it is like to walk along feeling as though somebody is following him, like a shadow, to kill him with a treacherous bullet, the smell of death clinging to everything.

Death surrounds us.

I want to be clear: We don’t fear death. It’s the inevitable end for all human beings. But we hate treachery. We don’t want to be an easy mark for the killers of the revolution and the revolutionaries.

Q: Raqqa city and its activists have been widely covered in the media as a result of IS’s cruel practices against them. Why this media interest in A-Raqqa in particular?

Raqqa activists are the most at risk for death among Syria’s activists. Even if an activist escapes the near-daily bombings of A-Raqqa city, he won’t escape the grip of the Islamic State if it doubts him and his activities.

Even if he is able to get out of A-Raqqa, IS can still get to his family, and they will never hesitate to blackmail him by arresting a family member and bargaining for his own life or that of any member of his family.

IS arrested the father of my friend, the activist Hamoud al-Mousa, and an IS leader [emir] made him an offer: He could either turn in his friends in the RBSS campaign or they would slaughter his father. When he refused, they killed his father along with two Raqqa activists in an IS video.

They were charged with “communicating with foreign parties.”

Q: Many activists from A-Raqqa work from outside of the city now. Does that provide any relief?

Unfortunately, activists in neighboring countries are no less likely to be killed or assassinated. The bullets and knives of treachery have reached beyond the boundaries of A-Raqqa.

Recently, we lost two of our own: Ibrahim Abdulqader and Fares Hamadi. They were murdered by a member of IS claiming to be a defector. They were murdered for their generosity.

Q: Will these dangers make you stop your work?

Completely the opposite. IS and all the killers seem not to realize that the blood of the martyrs only fuels our determination to continue our work.

What they will understand later is that injustice does not last and that the truth will prevail sooner or later.

I would like to say that the hunting of activists inside and outside of A-Raqqa only confirms how much the Islamic State has been damaged by their pens and cameras.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.