Cracks in Islamic State rule in the eastern Deir e-Zor town of al-Bukamal deepened last week, with the organization on Monday arresting the head of the Hisbeh, its religious police, according to a report by Deir e-Zor is Being Silently Slaughtered. The next day, the flag of the Syrian revolution was raised above a school and unknown gunmen publicly attacked IS members on Wednesday, killing four of the group’s fighters.
The Islamic State responded by burning the flag and initiating a new wave of arrests and executions. Badar Al-Khalaf, an independent opposition activist in the Deir e-Zor countryside who maintains a network of contacts inside the tightly controlled border town, tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hammou that IS has reasserted itself “maybe in an even more severe fashion than before.”
While IS leaders in al-Bukamal, just 6km from the Iraqi border, were targeted in a wave of assassination attempts in the spring, last Wednesday’s attack was bolder than anything the city has seen before.
“This time, it was groups openly defying the Islamic State rather than assassination attempts with silenced weapons.”
Q: Could you describe what was going on in al-Bukamal last week?
A group of youths in al-Bukamal raised the flag of the revolution above one of the schools last Tuesday, so IS responded by undertaking a campaign of arrests.
On Wednesday, four IS members were killed in a gun battle. This fighting is different than anything else that has happened in al-Bukamal before. This time, it was groups openly defying the Islamic State rather than assassination attempts with silent weapons.
Q: What do you know about the arrest of the Hisbeh (religious police) leader last Monday?
Abu Harira al-Jizrawi is a Saudi national. He was officially arrested for trying to defect from IS, but the real reason is unknown at this time.
IS has recently witnessed many internal disputes, including fights between local Syrian IS members and its foreign fighters because of the way in which the foreigners boss around the residents, which has caused local fighters to defect.
There are also various reasons why the foreign fighters are defecting: Their own internal disputes, or because they are worried that they will be killed. There have been many instances of IS killing its own members either in secret or executing them on fabricated charges. Others are leaving after they realize the true nature of IS and its crimes against civilians.
Q: What is the situation like now?
Some time after the flag was raised, IS burned it. The organization has re-imposed its control over the city, possibly in an even more severe fashion than before: the city is currently witnessing arrests and executions.
Q: Why are defections increasing in Deir e-Zor specifically?
Defections have picked up in eastern parts of Deir e-Zor because the residents refuse to be subjugated to IS’s rule, which has caused many Syrian IS members to defect. They fear that the FSA might come in the future [and instigate open rebellion].
Q: Are there really fears that the FSA might take Deir e-Zor?
They fear that the “New Syrian Army” could arrive in IS-controlled areas. This army was formed around a month ago by men from Deir e-Zor who are now in the Qalamoun region. They have agents in al-Bukamal who were previously in secret groups that carried out assassinations before the announcement of this army.