Since the Islamic State (IS) captured Palmyra city from regime forces on May 20, approximately 1,340 young men from the city and other surrounding towns in the eastern Homs countryside have joined IS’s ranks through an “optional enlistment process,” Nasir a-Thaer, a member of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) in Palmyra city told Syria Direct earlier this month.
Although IS has not adopted an official mandatory enlistment policy in Palmyra, “the people are in need of work in exchange for revenue to continue living,” Khaled al-Homsi, a member of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) and member of the LCC in Palmyra city, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.
Amidst continuous regime bombardment, a lack of basic services and virtually no jobs, many of Palmyra’s young men turn to IS to give them the sense that “they are in control of their town and of their family” when all other stability is absent in their lives, tells al-Homsi.
Q: Can you explain why Palmyra’s young men are joining IS?
Do monetary factors play a role?
The primary reason they join IS is a lack of awareness among Palmyra’s young men concerning the dangers of IS and their use of brainwashing techniques on Palmyra’s populace.
Another reason is the poor living conditions that these young men are suffering from. There is no work in the city, no future.
Whether or not IS is practicing coercion, the people are in need of salaries to continue living. Thus, they join their ranks out of the need to survive.
Finally, a number of young men need to feel like they are in control of their town and of their family. They need to feel like they’ve become leaders and [acquired] leadership characteristics that IS grants its fighters.
IS accepts young men between the ages of 15 and 40, approximately.
Q: After joining IS, are these young men thrown into combat immediately or do they undergo Sharia courses and military training?
At first they undergo closed Sharia courses taught by specialized IS members, so that they can be brainwashed. After that, depending on what they want to do, recruits either undergo military courses or training in running [public] offices or [providing public] services. Later on they’re thrown into combat outside of Palmyra because they pledged allegiance to IS to fight for them anywhere unconditionally.
Q: When a young man volunteers in IS’s ranks and his family is opposed—what happens in that case?
The Islamic State considers volunteering in its ranks jihad, [and by extension] those who don’t show up for service in its ranks aren’t showing up for jihad. They therefore consider families who oppose their sons’ service to be sinners.
As for the families themselves, they don’t have power over their sons and can’t do anything about them joining IS.
Q: What is the current situation in Palmyra like since IS took over?
The city is semi-isolated. The regime constantly is bombing the city and has destroyed 40 percent of the houses. The regime burned the gardens and IS destroyed the ruins that people relied on [for jobs]. Palmyra has thus witnessed a huge exodus [of citizens]. The internet and electricity are also cut off, meaning we activists rely on generators.