Two women living in areas controlled by the self-described Islamic State have secretly filmed scenes in and around Al-Raqqa, the largest city occupied by the militant group. The footage, obtained and edited by the Swedish newspaper Expressen, shows what daily life is really like in the region, and stands in stark contrast to the propaganda published by ISIS itself.
The group uses Raqqa as its operations base. Thousands of foreign fighters have congregated there since ISIS first captured the city in early 2014.
In the video, the two women -- who remain anonymous and use the pseudonyms "Om Mohammad" and "Om Omran" -- walk through the streets of Al-Raqqa with video cameras hidden in their niqābs, the full face veils ISIS requires they wear.
NOTE: This video features scenes some readers might find disturbing.
The impact of the terrorist organization is evident everywhere the women go.
A store selling hair dye has hastily marked over the photos of women's faces on the boxes, leaving only their hair visible. "We've lost our femininity," says one of the women.
A taxi driver who picks up the pair says he'd be in "big trouble" if he gave a ride to a woman who was unaccompanied by another person, which is illegal. The punishment for such a transgression is 30 lashes -- both for the driver, and the woman who dared venture into the city alone.
A trip past a roundabout in the city prompts Mohammad to recall the first time she saw an execution. After prisoners are killed, militants display the mutilated bodies of the dead.
“They execute with bullets, desecrate the body, decapitate it, stick the head on a spike and put it on display at the roundabout," she says. "Or they will put the body on the road and force cars to run it over until nothing is left. The body will become one with the ground. Only the clothes will be left.”
Women aren't exempt from executions, either. They are placed in a cage and stoned to death in public.
“I feel fear and terror,” Omran said as they look at the cage. “They don’t say what the woman’s crime is. When they are going to stone her to death, they let people gather and transport stones in. When the Wāli [governor] throws the first stone -- if the Wāli doesn’t throw first, no one else can -- the rest follow him.”
The women said they would have fled from the ISIS militants long ago, were it not for one of their friends, who is pregnant, unmarried and desperately needs their help.
“If she kept the child they would ask her about the child’s father. What can she say? Of course they would stone her to death" explained one of the women. "The other reason is that there aren’t any doctors who would dare carry out an abortion. We had to organize tablets for her to do the abortion at home.”
In a further injustice, foreign militants, looking to flee the hell they themselves have created, set up temporary checkpoints they use to confiscate civilians' ID cards. The defectors use the stolen cards to escape to Turkey, leaving innocent people stuck and powerless to leave.
“I long to take off the niqāb and the darkness that cloaks us, for good," says one of the women at the end of the video. "I can’t wait to dress the way we used to in the past ... to be able to go out in the street without being scared, and without seeing weapons or foreigners who have beards and look scary. I want to live the way I want. Buy what I want. I want to go out alone, free, without having a guardian with me. Nothing matters more than freedom.”