On the way to capturing Tabqah airbase on Sunday, the Kurdish-Arab led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also freed hundreds of people from three years of jihadist Islamic State (IS) rule.
Three Arab women from the villages surrounding Tabqah spoke to Dihaber News Agency about life under the extremist group and recounted horrific experiences in the northern Syrian city.
‘I was detained three times for going outside’
Delal Ebdo Mihemed, a mother of five, was taken into custody and investigated three times for leaving her house without permission. She was taken to an unknown location with her mother and cousin and subjected to verbal and physical abuse she said, adding, “They did all of this to instill fear in us.”
“After torturing women in public they would parade them on the streets. Going to market was worse than death. I saw them beat a woman because she hadn’t covered her eyes. Thousands of women have experienced this and all of them need to be saved. All of them need to be brought back to life.”
‘They tried to abduct me’
18-year-old H.E. spoke with her veil on because her family are still in areas controlled by IS. She said a woman venturing out to public places always carried the danger of death.
“They were always looking for ways to abduct and kill women. I experienced this. Once they tried to take me by force. There were 3 or 4 of them, they surrounded me and tried to force me into a car. I screamed and shouted and people gathered in the area to save me. After that day I did not step foot outside my home.”
‘IS militants from the US, Tunisia and England came here…’
H.E. went onto say that jihadist militants from many countries including the US, Tunisia, Egypt and England had arrived in the area and told residents they were going to teach them Islam.
“But they didn’t do anything other than pillage, plunder and destroy our city,” the young woman said.
‘Mass female genital mutilation’
Another Tabqa resident, 49-year-old Nura Xidir, spoke of horrific scenes of mass female genital mutilation in the city’s Fatimah Zahra square.
“They said they were doing it for Islam and Shariah. Everyone was watching this. Men were also punished to lashings in this square. It had been turned into a centre of torture. They were always looking for excuses to torture people.”
‘Save our children’
Xidir said she was happy to liberated from the group but that there were thousands of others still living under IS rule in Tabqa.
“We just want all people to live in safety. We want our children to be saved. We want the SDF to free our city and our children,” she concluded.
Tabqah, also known as al-Thawra, had a population of 70,000 before the war in Syria, including a 1000-strong Assyrian community, most of whom fled the conflict.
The small city, which is in 55km west of Raqqa, is expected to be targeted by the SDF as part of the Wrath of Euphrates Operation to capture the IS stronghold.