SYRIA

Activists risk their lives to spray anti-IS graffiti in Raqqa

Despite being a frequent target of airstrikes by the US-led coalition, the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria is still firmly in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) group. Thousands of civilians have fled the city, but one group of activists has stayed behind to denounce the jihadists' brutal rule. Their actions include spray-painting graffiti with anti-IS slogans on the walls of the city – a daring act that could cost them their lives.

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A Syrian activist in Raqqa spray-paints a wall with the words “Down with IS”. Screen grab from a video published on YouTube.

Despite being a frequent target of airstrikes by the US-led coalition, the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria is still firmly in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) group. Thousands of civilians have fled the city, but one group of activists has stayed behind to denounce the jihadists' brutal rule. Their actions include spray-painting graffiti with anti-IS slogans on the walls of the city – a daring act that could cost them their lives.

Since the start of the air raids in late August, the streets of Raqqa have looked relatively free of IS soldiers. However, the jihadist group still has a tight grip on the city, closely watching the population and manning mobile checkpoints throughout Raqqa.

“They have already called for our deaths, saying that we were apostates”

Abou Warid al-Raqqawi is one of the 16 members of “Raqqa's throat is being slit in silence”, an activist network whose members are spread out in the city and its surroundings.

Of course, we took many precautions while making these videos. We made certain that IS soldiers were not in the area where we wanted to go -- though for safety reasons I can't explain how exactly we did this. Also, the man in the video is wearing a hood, and his voice is not recorded.

Spraying the message “Down with IS”. Video posted online on October 20.

We’re doing this graffiti in homage to our friend Moataz Billeh, a member of our network who was killed by IS last May, barely one month after our campaign began.

In this video, activists write “Neither IS Nor Bashar [al-Assad]”. Video published on YouTube on October 19.

He was picked up by jihadists at a checkpoint in Raqqa, where they found photos and other information about our campaign on his phone. They decapitated him in a public square on May 8. In the mosques, they called for our deaths on the basis that we were apostates and secular. Luckily, they have not been able to identify us, as we always use fake names on social media.

A Catholic church painted entirely in black can be seen at 2'22”.

Three days ago, we managed to film one of the group's headquarters in the centre of the city. It is the Armenian Catholic church al-Shuhada, which they seized in March 2013. Today, the building has been deserted by the group's fighters, who fear the coalition strikes.