Screen grab of a video filmed on September 29 by a young Syrian in Raqaa.

Despite the risks, a young activist in Raqqa, a Syrian city held by the Islamic State organisation, has been secretly filming its streets on his mobile phone for more than a week. He shares his story with the FRANCE 24 Observers...

“The jihadists have become more discreet since the strikes began”

Abou Warid al-Raqqawi runs the Facebook page named “Raqqa is silently bleeding to death”.

Since the start of the airstrikes [by the international coalition] on Raqqa, many Islamic State (IS) group fighters have taken refuge in schools located in residential areas, so as to use civilians as human shields. They’ve stockpiled food and equipment in these schools.

Since the start of the strikes, about a hundred jihadist fighters have travelled to Kobane to take part in the siege against the Kurds. Others have left with their families in buses for Deir Ezzor to the east, to then go to Iraq. Yet others have taken refuge in the Kurdish village of Ain Issa, to the north. Those that remain in the city have become more discreet.

Many of Raqqa’s residents have fled to nearby villages or to Turkey. Those that have stayed here have barricaded themselves in their houses, and only creep out in the early morning to buy the bare necessities, like bread. The streets are basically empty. Before, the jihadists were constantly patrolling the streets, and forced all shopkeepers to go to the mosque during the prayer times. Such patrols have become very rare. Sometimes they set up checkpoints for just two or three hours.

Abou Warid al-Raqqawi filmed this footage on September 29 on his mobile phone. Part of the video shows the plaza in front of the Raqqa clock tower. This is normally one of the most bustling areas of the city, but on that day, most of the shops were closed. The video does not show any tangible sign of IS' presence except for a flag covering a stele on the plaza [at 1’00”].

The coalition has only targeted IS headquarters in Raqqa, namely the local courthouse and the governor’s building. To my knowledge, only two civilians have been killed in the coalition strikes [this statement could not yet be independently verified].


Photos of a refinery completely destroyed by the coalition strikes on Thursday.

The IS noose has loosened but the fear is still very present. People are traumatised. Just a few weeks ago, children were playing in the public squares with the heads of men decapitated by the organisation.

A tour of the Jamaâ al-Charaksa neighbourhood. At 00’30”, a van bearing the IS logo goes by. According to Abou Warid al-Raqqawi, the buildings visible in the background were destroyed several months ago by the Syrian regime, not by the coalition strikes.

Electricity has become strictly rationed since the start of the western intervention. We only have four hours of power per day. Many residents and shopkeepers own generators, as there were blackouts even before the strikes. However, since the coalition forces destroyed the refineries outside of Raqqa, the price of gasoline has significantly increased (150 Syrian pounds per litre of diesel – equivalent to 70 euro cents – and 250 pounds for a litre of gasoline). So many of those who own generators cannot afford to buy the gasoline on which to run them. Those shopkeepers that absolutely need electricity to run their business, such as cybercafés, have indefinitely closed shop.

The prices of basic foodstuffs have skyrocketed. Bread now costs 150 Syrian pounds, whereas before the strikes, it cost 15. But IS fighters don’t have such problems: not only do they get free gasoline, they also received a bonus of USD 100 and a free sheep for the Eid holidays.

Footage posted on September 24, the day after the start of coalition strikes in Raqqa.

Generally, when the strikes begin, after 11pm, IS fighters ask those residents using a generator to turn it off. IS has strictly forbidden anyone from filming or taking photographs; only their “PR agency” is allowed to do so. Several days ago, they arrested four youths at a checkpoint because they had found some photos of bombarded areas on their cell phones. So I am extremely careful when I film.

Before going out, I always try to ensure that there are no IS fighters in the streets I plan on walking in. We have a network of about 16 activists in the city and we exchange this type of information to protect each other.

A deserted shopping district in Raqqa. Posted on September 23, several days after the strikes began.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Djamel Belayachi.