Death of IS’s dark dream marks the end of my Raqqa nightmare

World

Death of IS’s dark dream marks the end of my Raqqa nightmare

The 'caliphate' has finally crumbled, leaving memories of executions and crucifixions in a small miserable pocket of Syria

Mazen Hassoun


Five years ago, the Islamic State group invaded my city and declared it the capital of its caliphate. Covered in black banners, its streets full of masked men, Raqqa quickly lost its joy.
The morning after IS seized control, we woke up to find fighters in the old market, giving a speech about mercy, as a young man knelt in chains. As hundreds looked on, they shot him in the head, shouting: “The Islamic State is here to stay.”
From its first days in Raqqa, IS began terrorising residents and eliminating its opponents. The smallest “mistake” would be punished with flogging or could even cost you your life. IS would call residents out on to the street for executions, forcing them to watch to instil fear of the consequences if they stepped out of line. Soon, the sight of crucified people became normal, passers-by walking on without a second glance. They banned TV and, later, shut off the internet, so that residents were subject only to its own propaganda. Schools were an important tool to spread IS ideology.
One of the many executed was my 15-year-old cousin. In early 2014, he was arrested on the street near his home and accused of being a fighter for the Free Syrian Army. Four days later we received the horrific message: “You can collect his body from Raqqa’s National Hospital.” Without hesitation, they had put a bullet in a teenager’s head. It was the worst shock of my life.
As an activist, I was forced to flee a few months later when IS began its campaign to root us out. I escaped to Turkey, where I began to expose IS’s human rights violations in Raqqa through my Facebook and Twitter accounts. But IS has remained inside my head. For years I have had a recurring nightmare: I am back in Raqqa, with the group hunting the city to find me, bent on crucifying me like so many others. When they catch me, I wake up terrified, barely able to breathe.
I have been waiting for this news, watching closely as Western-backed forces encircle IS’s last pocket in eastern Syria. When I read the victory announcement, I could not stop weeping, first for joy, and then for my friends and family murdered by IS. The caliphate has crumbled and with it all IS’s dark dreams. For me, the end of IS is the end of my nightmares.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited

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