By FULVIO SCAGLIONE
Mayadin is along the road that goes straight to Deir Ezzor (which has been under seige by Isis since two years ago) and to Raqqa, Al Baghdadi’s capitol city. Riad can therefore supply a first-hand account of what goes on in the heart of the Caliphate, where he has left behind his mother, two elder brothers, and a bevy of cousins.“I couldn’t stand it anymore”, says Riad. “With those guys anything can happen to you at any time of the day. I’ve always tried to be prudent but nonetheless I had to submit to two periods of a month each in the re-education camps.
“No. The real purpose gets revealed later. In these camps there were about three or four hundred men, who were then transferred to Deir Ezzor and forced to dig trenches and tunnels in the airport, which is partly occupied by Isis. In other words, it was forced labor for the jihad. When they finished with one group they brought in another one. There was no way of rebelling, a mere trifle could get you killed”.
So how come you ended up in this camp?
“I was detained because my jellaba (the traditional islamic tunic) was too short at the ankles. Clearly an excuse”.
Is it really so dangerous to live under the Isis militia?
“Of course it is. Between what has happened to friends and acquaintances of mine and what I have been told by others, I have dozens of stories that make one’s hair stand on end. For example, I know about a boy who had decided to enlist with the Islamic State. His father did everything in his power to stop him, he insulted him, they quarreled. So the boy denounced his father, who was promptly executed, in public. A friend of mine instead quarreled with a Saudi militiaman. They came to get him, they tortured him, they killed him and then they exhibited his body in the public square. They put a sign on the body that read: “He insulted a fighter for islam”. And so on and so forth.
Doesn’t sound like enlisting is a good idea.
“Actually, it depends. If it’s a Syrian who is enlisting, his salary will be 100 dollars a month. But those who come from abroad, Tunisians, Turks, Saudis and Europeans, get much more, not less than 500 dollars. In any case, it’s a lot of money for the standard of living of those places. And there’s also a big difference in how they treat you. Syrians and Iraqis run a lot more risks, because they are almost always sent to the front lines, to fight. In the positions of command and in the administration are almost always taken by foreigners, who are therefore a lot less at risk. It’s a system that allows them not to lose control of the situation, in order not to be betrayed”.
And who keeps tabs on you, ordinary people?
“There are two police forces. The first one is called “Security”, which deals with mores: misdemeanors such as wearing jeans, wearing your beard too short. As I said, they are principally to rake up men to oblige to work for free. The Security is constantly checking on people even in the two internet points in town. If they catch you looking at any anti-Isis websites or pornographic websites, there’s the death penalty. If you have songs downloaded in your cell phone you get 40 lashes. If a woman’s eyes are excessively uncovered, she is fined 2 grams of gold. Then there is the actual police, which is supposed to deal with criminals and which doesn’t count at all”.
But does the town work? Trade, manufacturing …
“Our area, like that of Deir Ezzor, lives on oil. And Isis does too, as it traded it with Turkey”.
“Yes because first the Turks left the border between the cities of Tall Abyad and Jarablus (in Syria) which was where all the trading went on: oil in exchange for money, arms, ammunition. But since Russia and Turkey have came to an agreement, that border has been sealed and therefore it is much more difficult to trade in oil. In the last few years Isis has continued to extract oil but with more and more rudimental means. Pollution, which was already heavy, has increased greatly. I’m convinced that it is for this reason that there are so many more cases of cancer: from 40 cases a month in 2014 to 180 a month today. I know because I work part time in a lab and the sick now almost all end up at the hospital in Mayadin which, among the ones still under Isis, is the most efficient”.
Well, if the oil bonanza is over, where does Isis get its money?
“Well, in the last two years they managed to accumulate a lot. For example, they gave the grave robbers leave to dig wherever they liked, and accordingly they have looted the archeological sites. The deal is: you get a third of the value, two thirds go to Isis. If you try and go it alone, you get the death penalty. And then, of course, there is also some trading because the merchants are allowed to come and go from Syria to procure their goods. This way Isis makes a profit twice: with the kickbacks and with taxes. In this case too I know what I’m talking about because one of my brothers has a shop and it is he who ultimately supports the whole family.
What about your other brother?
“He used to be a journalist but now he’s a taxi-driver on a motorbike”.
In your opinion, how has Isis managed to resist for so long?
“Because it gets help”.
“All of us, there, are convinced that it’s the Americans. Almost every day we hear helicopters flying over our heads and then we see loads of supplies coming into town. So who can it be, in that region, who can fly about freely, if not the Americans?
Well, what do you think: will Isis eventually be defeated?
“Yes. I hope by the end of this year”.
(traduzione in inglese di Alessandra Nucci )