Activists In Raqqa, Syria, Use Social Media To Document ISIS Violence
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Raqqa is being slaughtered silently. That's the name of a group of activists from the city of Raqqa, Syria, who use social media to document the actions of ISIS. ISIS has declared Raqqa its capital. When ISIS took over the city nearly two years ago, Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi began hearing that the militants were cutting off people's hands, raping women and executing Christians and others who were considered to be nonbelievers.
ABU IBRAHIM AL-RAQQAWI: So I say in my mind I need to do something. So I just open my Photoshop and then I make a logo and I make the Facebook page.
MCEVERS: And started posting what ISIS was doing.Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi is the name this man is known by online. He won't tell us his real name because he's afraid he'll be identified by ISIS. I asked al-Raqqawi why his group is called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.
AL-RAQQAWI: The city was suffering a lot. The people are suffering a lot and nobody is care about them. It was completely silenct. So we bring this name to turn a light on this city that this city is suffering and is suffering silently.
MCEVERS: People eventually paid attention. Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently has thousands of followers online. The work is dangerous. From the very beginning, ISIS targeted the activists. Any simple mistake, al-Raqqawi says, could get you killed, like revealing your face or voice online or even showing the rooftop of your house in a video or picture. If you do, he says, ISIS will find you. And a warning - he's about to describe some violence in detail.
AL-RAQQAWI: They put cameras - they put special spies - they put a lot of police to check cellphones and laptops. They break a lot of Internet cafes to search for activists. When they break the Internet cafes, they tell all the people inside the cafe put your hands on the table, nobody move. And they collect all the laptops and the cellphones and they start to checking it, checking the history, everything. They check everything. Also sometimes you are walking in the city and suddenly there is a checkpoint. They are searching cellphones. Also not just they are following us on real life. They are following us also on Internet, trying to hack our website, to hack our Twitter, to hack our Facebook. But we thank God we are showing everyday daily life inside the city of Raqqa. We are sending the information from Raqqa to Turkey and we are posting online everything.
MCEVERS: So you are outside of Raqqa now.
AL-RAQQAWI: I cannot tell you that.
MCEVERS: OK, but some of your activists are based in Turkey.
MCEVERS: And so recently two of your activists - actually one of the co-founders of the organization - was killed in Turkey. Can you tell us what happened?
AL-RAQQAWI: So there was a guy - he come to Turkey, like, four months ago and he say he is an ISIS defector.
MCEVERS: He said that he had been in ISIS.
MCEVERS: But that he had left ISIS.
AL-RAQQAWI: Yes. So he asked for help and because the guys have a good heart they believed him. And they was hanging together, eating together, sleep sometimes in the same apartment together. He pretend that he's their friend. Everything was normal. Then one day he entered the apartment - the guys' apartment - with another three guys I think. They was all with ISIS. When Ibrahim opened the door, they shot him in the head immediately and then they enter and shot Fares. And then they stab Ibrahim about 55 times. And they cut their heads - cut his head and they cut Far's head.
MCEVERS: And how do you know they were ISIS?
AL-RAQQAWI: Because they post a video claiming responsibility for that.
MCEVERS: Yeah. Do you still have people in Turkey?
MCEVERS: You must feel like it's not as safe to be in Turkey anymore. I mean, Turkey, at one time, for a long time, for years, has been a safe haven for activists.
AL-RAQQAWI: For Raqqa's Being Slaughtered Silently activists it's not safe.
MCEVERS: And so this must mean that you yourself are very much a target.
AL-RAQQAWI: Of course, all of us, we are targets.
MCEVERS: Does it ever make you want to quit?
AL-RAQQAWI: No, not at all.
AL-RAQQAWI: If they think that we will stop because they are killing some of our guys or they are chasing us, they are dreaming. We will not stop. It's a war. It's us or them. We will die until the last man or they will leave Raqqa. This is the case.
MCEVERS: Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, thank you very much for your time today.
AL-RAQQAWI: Thank you so much.
MCEVERS: That's the man known as Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi. He's the founder of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. He doesn't use his real name or reveal his location because of death threats from ISIS. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.