February 11, 2015
The Islamic State faces increased pressure in Deir e-Zor as a combination of regime and US-led coalition bombing, defections and assassinations against its members threatens its control over the oil-rich eastern province.
Earlier this week, IS fighters were seen retreating from the city of Al-Bokamel on the Iraqi border, which has been heavily bombed by US warplanes, in an apparent attempt to lower its profile in the area, reported the pro-opposition media campaign Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently.
Over the past month, assassination attempts against the Al-Hisbeh [IS religious police] in the cities of Al-Mayadeen and Al-Bokamel have become a common occurrence.
One opposition group, al-Kafan al-Abyad, claims to have killed 100 IS members since it began operating last October.
“The Islamic State has become more afraid after the appearance of al-Kafan al-Abyad,” says Mujahed a-Shami, the alias of the director of Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently. “IS fighters no longer move around as openly as they did, particularly after dark,” he tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.
Q: Many of the assassinations against IS fighters in Deir e-Zor perpetrated by unknown gunmen. Do you think that the perpetrators are from Deir e-Zor? Why they are targeting IS?
Yes, the perpetrators are from Deir e-Zor. Their work was done secretly, as many of the Deir e-Zor fighters are known to IS. The fighters are targeting IS because of their cruel policy against the people of Deir e-Zor. The assassins are those who have lost family members and relatives at the hand of IS members in awful ways.
The remnants of an attack against an IS car in January. Photo Courtesy of Deirelzzore is Being Slaughtered Silently.
Q: A group called al-Kafan al-Abyad (The White Shroud) has promised to assassinate IS members. Does this group have an actual presence on the ground? Are they involved in the recent assassinations of IS fighters?
Al-Kafan al-Abyad exists on the ground. It started in east Deir e-Zor in Al-Bokamel, after the opposition fighters left the province to Qalamoun. Many FSA groups stayed and now they are leading the assassinations against IS in Al-Bokamel and the surrounding area.
Q: What is IS’s reaction to these assassinations? Have the assassinations affected the disappearance of IS members in Deir e-Zor and the dissolution of the Hesbeh [IS religious police]?
IS has become more afraid after the appearance of [al-Kafan al-Abyad] members, especially with rise of other similar groups like Soqour al-Mayadin, Saraya al-Kawatem, and Saraya Asoud al-Sharqia in the western part of the province. This has led to a decrease in IS movement in the province, especially after dark.
Q: What do civilians think about IS in your area? Do the assassinations reflect local anger at IS?
People here are poor. IS has crippled their lives and starved them. The people here have reached the point where they support the assassinations against IS morally and financially.
Q: Why do you think IS fighters are defecting and fleeing the country? Is it out of fear of bombing from international coalition and the regime? Or is it because of the Islamic State’s policies?
They are fleeing for two reasons. First, IS members are aware that IS will not last and they are fleeing to survive before the ship sinks.
Second, some members initially thought that IS had the right policy and path, but when they saw IS and its ways with their own eyes, they understand that it is not the right way.
Q: Is IS taking steps to decrease defection in its ranks? Are they taking security measures to prevent defection or is there is a real discussion within its forces to convince its fighters to stay?
IS can’t take any real steps to decrease this phenomenon because these defections are happening secretly. The defectors know that IS will kill them if they discover any attempts to escape. Defectors who are originally from the same area they live in can now defect and escape easily.
Q: Are so many defections happening that it might present a real danger for IS in Deir e-Zor?
Defections among Syrian IS fighters are ongoing, and many others have fled to Europe. The foreign fighters are defecting less than the Syrians, but the defections will cause confusion in the ranks of IS in the near future.
Q: Do you think that the defections in Deir e-Zor are signs of IS’s demise in the province, similar to what happened in Kobani?
I think it does suggest IS’s demise, but we can’t compare Deir e-Zor with Kobani. IS considers Deir e-Zor its last stronghold in Syria, especially if it loses Aleppo, A-Raqqa and other places.
Deir e-Zor also strategically located and is the most important source of finance for IS, in addition to being situated on the border with Iraq.
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