October 22, 2014
Islamic State fighters are adapting to US-led coalition airstrikes in A-Raqqa province.
Combatants across cities and towns in A-Raqqa have emptied their headquarters of men and spread out in groups that move locations on a regular basis, Ahmed a-Zarqawi, the alias of a media activist in Tabqa city, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali. The activist asked to remain anonymous out of fear of IS retribution.
The reality of airstrikes makes IS’s presence less visible during the day, but has not lessened the extremist group’s iron grip over A-Raqqa province.
Last week, IS publicly executed two men in A-Raqqa’s provincial capital for uttering blasphemous words, says a-Zarqawi, while imposing more severe dress restrictions on women.
“I haven’t noticed…that the strikes weakened IS,” the activist says.
“The opposite, in fact.”
Q: How has IS protected itself from coalition bombings in A-Raqqa?
At the beginning of the strikes, IS adopted a new strategy centered on hiding and protecting itself. The most important component was emptying most of their headquarters within A-Raqqa [city].
Additionally, IS spread out in groups that move about from time to time with some weapons and ammunition, without staying in one place.
Residents line up for food aid in A-Raqqa city. Photo courtesy of .
Q: How did the coalition bombings affect IS in A-Raqqa? Did IS suffer heavy losses?
I haven’t noticed any change in IS’s policies, or that the strikes weakened IS.
The opposite, in fact—IS is now fighting on several fronts, including Ain al-Arab [Kobani], the northern outskirts of Aleppo, the northeast outskirts of A-Raqqa, and the outskirts of al-Hasakah.
Q: Is there a visible IS presence in A-Raqqa, and are they still restricting civilians’ freedoms?
The number of IS fighters on the streets of A-Raqqa decreased after the bombing campaign. They only appear at night when they roam the streets in large numbers.
Of course IS still imposes restrictions on civilians. This past Sunday, IS executed two young men in the public squares of A-Raqqa on the charge of saying blasphemous things.
They cut off another’s hand for the charge of stealing, and have issued new laws on modest clothing for women, schools and education.
Q: What is the relationship like between civilians and IS? Do civilians sympathize with them?
Any civilians sympathizing with IS were among their supporters from the very beginning.
Q: What is life like in A-Raqqa under repeated bombings? Where are civilians hiding, and how are they securing food and water?
The life of civilians worsened after the coalition strikes began—especially after the coalition targeted oil refineries and wells, which led to a sharp rise in the prices of fuel, transportation, travel, essential goods and food.
Until now, no civilian location has been targeted by the coalition except for al-Abu factory (a plastics factory) in the south of A-Raqqa. The owner of the factory, Hussein al-Abu, was killed in the strike.
Civilians are dependant to a large extent on humanitarian aid and the Relief Kitchen in A-Raqqa to secure food.
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