The group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently faces unceasing peril from ISIS as its members smuggle out information about what's happening in their city.

Source: The New Yorker

On Saturday night, five young Syrians slouched into a dive bar in New York and ordered drinks. When the bartender asked if off-brand vodka was O.K., they had to smile. They were all exiles from Raqqa, the provincial city in northern Syria that ISIS has made its operational center and the de-facto capital of the Islamic State. No one needed the good stuff. Just a drink would do.

Everyone in the group works for Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (R.B.S.S.), a kind of underground journalistic-activist enterprise that, under the threat of grisly execution, smuggles images and reports on ISIS from Raqqa to its allies abroad. The group’s comrades, in turn, post them on social media and its Web site. ISIS has controlled Raqqa for nearly two years and much of the foreign press looks to R.B.S.S. for first-hand reports about the daily life—and depredations—in Raqqa. And because they have dared to post reports of crucifixions, beheadings, sexual abuse, and other crimes, members of R.B.S.S., both inside the city and abroad, have been murdered by ISIS for their work.

Abdel Aziz al-Hamza, a slender man of twenty-four, acts as spokesperson. As recently as a few years ago, he was a biology student at Raqqa University who dreamed of studying pharmacology in Jordan or Turkey and returning home to start his career and a family.

“I was a normal guy,” he said, after taking a first sip of his vodka-and-Sprite. “I hung out with friends at cafés and bars. None of us were political. In Syria, before the revolution, it was a crime to be political in any way.” Raqqa was a relatively prosperous city with energy resources and an agricultural base. Major dams in the area are an important source of power in Syria.

When anti-regime demonstrations broke out in March, 2011, in Dara’a, a city in the south, and reports spread throughout Syria that Bashar al-Assad’s security forces were firing on civilians, Hamza and many others joined in protests, in Raqqa. “We wanted to be free,” he said. “It seemed simple.”

As the uprising against Assad spread throughout Syria and the casualty counts rose, tens of thousands of people left Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, and other embattled cities and towns and arrived in Raqqa, which is on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. The city swelled and became known for a while as “the hotel of the revolution.”

By March, 2013, Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) troops, as well as Islamist rebel forces, including al-Nusra, controlled the city and tore down a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, to celebrate. “Raqqa was the first liberated city in Syria,” Hamza said.

Full Story