July 15, 2013

Last week's assassination of an FSA commander near Latakia by elements of an al-Qaeda-linked faction has many concerned that infighting among the armed opposition will undermine efforts to depose President Bashar al-Assad. The group, The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham, has previously fought alongside the FSA, but conflict between the groups over such issues as civil administration and arms allocation have spurred violence between them as of late. In light of these rising tensions, Abu Baker, a citizen journalist with the Sham Network in Raqqa, spoke with Nuha Shabaan and shed light on civilians' perceptions of the Islamic State in Raqqa, where the group maintains its greatest presence. Abu Baker, who dreams of “an independent Syria without Bashar and those among the rebels who act like him,” says that the Islamic State is gradually enforcing its notion of sharia' law on the citizens of Raqqa, and that he witnesses palpable tension between the ISIS and the FSA stationed there.

Q: What information do you have about the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham?

A: The Islamic state of Iraq and Sham do not control Raqqa and outer Raqqa, the Free Sham Movement has greater control there.

But the the Islamic state of Iraq and Sham, they are a hated group among the people [here]. They have many problems with it because [ISIS is] acting like the regime, arresting civilians without telling their parents, without informing them where he is or what his fate will be.

The practices imposed on the public according to sharia' law come from ISIS leaders, and most of the time they are reckless.

Q: Who appointed these people? Where are they from? Are they Syrian?

A: They are not very popular among civilians, especially in the province of Raqqa, or with the FSA because their practices are unfounded, based only on what is on their mind.

They are not from Syria, they appointed themselves without asking anyone, but today they exercise the strongest rule because they have weapons and power.

Q: How many are they?

A: Their number is unknown since they hide their identities and numbers by wearing masks in street, prohibiting [citizens from] video recording or asking them anything.

Q: What about their relations with Jabhat al-Nusra?

A: In the beginning, Jabhat al-Nusra was the biggest, strongest power, and when The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham was established in Raqqa most of them were from Jabhat al-Nusra originally.

That’s why we notice good relations between those two. They even share headquarters most of the time.

Q: What about their relationship with the FSA?

A: They aren’t friends with the FSA because most FSA members are moderate Syrians. And whenever both parties are around each other or deal with each other usually one party is alienated.

For example, I was in the market where a group from the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham came and saw a group from the FSA, the FSA referred to them as infidels, saying, “leave, infidels.” Then they had a verbal showdown and weapons were raised, but thank God it was resolved by good-willed people and they ended the problem.