Nation & World

December 3, 2013

Details emerge of life under al Qaida in Syria

Details are emerging of the violent rule of al Qaida's feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has seized swaths of rebel-held territory.

Militants burn cartons of cigarettes as a reminder that smoking is now forbidden. In phone calls with a female reporter, opposition activists are compelled to use masculine terms to hide the fact that they're speaking with a woman. A rebel commander who once fought alongside al Qaida-allied men and spoke proudly of their shared victory is now missing; his former comrades seized him and other leaders they now view as rivals.

In Raqqa, draconian new rules saying women can no longer walk alone or women must cover from head to toe have earned the city the nickname "Tora Bora" as it falls under ever-tighter control of al Qaida's feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Those are just some of the details emerging about life in rebel-held northern Syria, where ISIS is expanding control and creating a militant Islamist fiefdom, leaving ordinary Syrians feeling trapped between Bashar Assad's brutal regime on one side, and ruthless foreign jihadists on the other.

The Syrian civil war is caught in a vicious cycle of slaughter that's become so constant that it rarely makes headlines, even with the death toll now said to top 120,000. Millions of others are displaced and living in miserable winter conditions in overcrowded camps and host communities.

The regime's tight controls on reporters' access in Damascus and ISIS militants' attacks on journalists in opposition-held areas have made it virtually impossible for comprehensive, independent news gathering. But some new accounts offer at least a glimpse of northern Syria as it slips under Taliban-style extremist rule.

A Syrian activist and reporting assistant, Mousab Alhamadee, who's helped McClatchy reporters on assignment in Syria, wrote a gripping first-person account of how ISIS and its sometimes-allied group Jabhat al Nusra made him flee the country and the uprising he'd once supported fervently.

CNN gathered footage that was secretly shot in al Qaida-held territory, where filming is forbidden, and put it into a piece that gives a window into how Raqqa went from being a liberal city to one where unrelated men and women can no longer walk together in public.

And the acclaimed freelance journalist Rania Abouzeid, one of the most reliable and courageous journalists covering the conflict, is in Washington this week and spoke at the New America Foundation. She described how her own reporting has been affected by the jihadists' takeover. Her access is restricted and some old contacts are more nervous about working with her.








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