Life under Daesh: Executions, fear and despair

Captives describe horrors of Daesh rule as coalition forces free towns and villages and move towards the city of Mosul.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Newly liberated victims are now finding the courage to speak about their treatment under Daesh and their stories are gruesome.

Updated Dec 1, 2016

Life in towns and villages captured by Daesh during its blitzkrieg-like advance across Iraq and Syria could be described as hell. But one word alone cannot describe the reality of the situation. 

During its two-year hold over Mosul and neighbouring areas, Daesh not only slit throats and shed innocent blood, but also imposed the staunch lifestyle that is in line with its warped ideology.

Newly liberated victims are now finding the courage to speak about their treatment under Daesh and their stories are gruesome.

Daesh, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or "Dowla," as it is commonly referred to by locals, is a terrorist group which originated in Iraq that rebelled against the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. The group rose to prominence after it proclaimed itself a so-called Islamic caliphate in 2014 by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, from a mosque in Iraq.

It is recognised as a terrorist group by the United Nations and many individual countries after engaging in extreme human rights abuses, war crimes and ethnic cleansing on a historic scale.

People see their relatives who had fled from Mosul, Iraq, at a fence surrounding Al-Khazer refugee camp, east of the city, November 4, 2016. (Reuters)

A major operation by Iraqi forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Popular Mobilisation Forces backed by an international coalition, was launched on October 17, after the Iraqi government resolved to regain control and restore its writ in the city.

Newly displaced people sit at a checkpoint in Qayyara, east of Mosul, on October 26, 2016. (Reuters)

People who have been liberated by these forces, as well as those who can still manage to communicate while under Daesh rule, are sharing harrowing accounts of their pain and suffering:

These are a few stories curated from freelance journalist Campbell MacDiarmid and Reuters field reporters who are reporting from Mosul.

A map showing areas of control around Mosul, Iraq as of November 2016.

Hammam al-Alil, South of Mosul

Peering out from behind his bedroom window, 29-year-old Riyad Ahmed watched as Daesh dragged civilians into a makeshift jail across the street from his home.

They would be taken out and executed in the middle of the night.

Ahmed remembers hearing the cries of anguish as he hid with his neighbours.

"The devil himself would be astounded by Daesh's methods of torture. It is beyond imagination."

Ahmed saw six people, including his own father, executed in his neighbourhood street.

Before the advancement of Iraqi troops, Daesh used the town's agricultural college as a "killing field for hundreds of people," Ahmed told Kalin.

"They would torture them inside and then take them out of the neighbourhood, and either shoot them or slit their throats."

Iraqi forces say it discovered the decapitated corpses of at least 100 civilians.

"We have been living in hell, like zombies," said Ahmed.

Clothing of prisoners who were detained by Daesh seen in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, November 7, 2016. (Reuters)

Just before being liberated last week, residents had packed into homes with nearly 100 other people for days to avoid being forced to flee to Mosul as Daesh retreated.

"They didn't know we were here. We didn't make a sound. No lights, no speaking at all," Ahmed said.

"If the [Iraqi] forces had come just a few days later, we would be in Mosul now. Daesh wanted to take us to be used as human shields.”

A displaced Iraqi child flees with her family as Iraqi forces battle Daesh in Kokjali village near Mosul, November 3, 2016. (Reuters)

Tariq, an engineering student, said he had barricaded himself for four days inside his home with dozens of neighbours until Daesh fled the town.

At one point, Daesh gunmen put on army uniforms and managed to trick a few families into believing they were part of the Iraqi forces.

When the civilians went out to greet them, Tariq said, some were taken to be used as human shields, while the others were executed.

"Even a one-year-old baby, they put a bullet in his head."

A woman with her baby flees fighting between Iraqi forces and Daesh in the Intisar district of eastern Mosul, November 8, 2016. (Reuters)

Qayyarah, south of Mosul

Around 65 km (40 miles) south of Mosul lies the town of Qayyarah, which is well-known for its oil fields. Two months ago, Daesh set ablaze many of these oil fields as they fled towards the city.

Today, these fields continue to burn.

Smoke rises from oil wells Daesh set ablaze before fleeing the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq on November 1, 2016. (Reuters)

Just before being liberated, civilians who managed to flee arrived at an Iraqi forces checkpoint outside the town. The few who were able spoke about the treacherous way of life under Daesh.

Rayan Khidayer told MacDiarmid, “I was flogged with chains for two-and-a-half days,” showing the wounds on his legs. “They said I was helping the Iraqi forces.”

Civilians cook for Iraqi forces after the liberation of Khalidiya village, south of Mosul, October 20, 2016. (Reuters)

Wisem Mohamed, who fled his village of Mounireh with his brothers and faced repeated detention and torture, said "It was miserable and pitiful."

“Hell,” his brother said. “We’ve come from hell to this.”

Mahmoud Ussein told MacDiarmid a similar tale, “Daesh told us that there would be fighting in our village and they would take us to the town of Hamam to protect us. This was a lie. They want to use us as human shields there so the forces won’t attack them.”

“There was no food under Daesh, they only gave to those who pledged allegiance,” he said.

"There is nothing now in our village. Daesh destroyed us.”

A boy flees fighting between Iraqi forces and Daesh in the Intisar district of eastern Mosul, Iraq on November 8, 2016. (Reuters)


As Iraqi forces advance towards the city of Mosul, Daesh is fighting to hold on to its stronghold.

According to residents, many civilians have been killed in the last few days after being accused of passing information to "the enemy."

This is a clear message to the city's remaining 1.5 million residents that the group is still in charge.

"I saw five corpses of young men who had been crucified at a road junction in east Mosul," one resident told Reuters.

"Daesh hung the bodies out and said that these were agents passing news to the infidel forces and apostates." 

"I went out in my car for the first time since the start of the clashes in the eastern districts and I saw some Hisba checking people's beards and clothes and looking for smokers," said one resident still trapped in the city.

Hisbah, which is Arabic for accountability, is Daesh's morality police, and they carry out public beheadings, stonings, executions and amputations to enforce their own brand of Sharia law.

"It looks like they want to prove their presence after they disappeared for the last 10 days, especially on the eastern bank," the resident said.

People rest after fleeing their homes during clashes between Iraqi forces and Daesh near Mosul, on October 18, 2016. (Reuters)

A 65-year-old man, who gave his name as Abu Ali, said, "I went to get my pension as usual, but the man at the office refused to give it to me unless I handed over my SIM card."

People there are hesitant to give their names, as the Hisbah are trying to inspect SIM cards to check on all communications.

Under-aged sex slaves

Pamphlets and other materials printed with Daesh logos concerning the treatment of captives have been found in the liberated areas.

The most shocking was a pink and red pamphlet which included 32 questions and answers on how to deal with female captives.

According to the pamphlet, senior Daesh clerics have the authority to distribute female captives among the fighters.

"Non-Muslim women can be taken as concubines," the leaflet asserts.

A video emerged on social media purportedly showing Daesh members talking about which female slaves to take, including underage teenagers and children.

They joke about the prices they are paying for the girls, and say “it depends on what she looks like.”

Militants can own two sisters as concubines but only have sex with one.

"Pre-pubescent girls can be taken as concubines. You cannot have penetrative sex but you can still enjoy them," the leaflet added.

One question in the pamphlet asked whether a group of militants can share a concubine. The answer: only a single owner can sleep with a concubine.

Nadia Murad, a Daesh sex slave survivor and a nominee for the Noble Prize narrated her ordeal at the United Nations.

“When they put us on the bus, we didn’t know what would happen to us. We saw them killing men; we saw them killing the older women. While we were on our way, before we reached Mosul, they started harassing us on the bus. They touched and humiliated us. They told us openly, ‘You are our sex slaves.’

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, waves while being recognised by the Speaker in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada on October 25, 2016. (Reuters)

“They took us to a building in Mosul where we saw hundreds of other girls like us. Some of them were married, some had children. We asked them how they were being treated, because they were taken from other Yazidi villages in Sinjar before us. These girls told us that once in a while somebody is taken away and raped.

"The militants could sell or trade us among themselves. They took the children away from the married women. Women who were several months pregnant were forced to have an abortion because Daesh said they were pregnant from infidels – [Yazidi men].”

A displaced Iraqi woman from the Yazidi community in Dohuk. (Reuters)

Murad tried to escape twice. 

“When I ran away for the first time, I was caught. But my second attempt was successful. A Muslim family from Mosul hid me and helped me get out.”

Murad said most people asked for money to help the Yazidi women escape, but the family who helped her didn’t ask for anything in return. 

She said that the family that saved her helped her get to the border near Kirkuk. She spent some time in tent camps before moving to Germany, where she received legal status and a place to stay.

Although many areas have been set free, the battle for the liberation of Mosul and its people continues.

Authors: Emre Iren, Mazhar Bughio and Abed Ahmed.

TRTWorld and agencies