Chapter 4. Capture and abduction of civilians

According to the International Convention against Hostage—Taking of 1979 (Article 1), the crime of hostage-taking is committed by any person who captures or holds another person and threatens to kill, injure or continue to hold a hostage in order to force a State, an international intergovernmental organization, any natural or legal person or group of persons to commit or to refrain from committing any act as a condition for the release of a hostage, as well as an attempt to commit the above actions or complicity in them.

During the occupation of the territories of Syria, the militants captured a significant number of civilians, who were subsequently held in prisons in various localities. According to eyewitnesses, the main purpose of the hostage-taking was to create an exchange pool for subsequent exchange for certain militants who were captured by the legitimate authorities of Syria.

International humanitarian law prohibits torture, humiliation, and the killing of civilians who are captured or held hostage.

Witnesses interviewed by the staff of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy Problems told about the executions of men to raise the spirit of militants and intimidate civilians in the occupied territories.

According to witnesses, almost all the men, when captured, were beaten by militants, and some were executed later.

Varda Ahmed IbragimPictured: Mohammed Husam Masri, 19 years old, student, Ali Husam Masri, 22 years old, student, Warda Ahmed Ibrahim, 55 years old, cleaner at school, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Warda Ahmed Ibrahim, 55, school cleaner, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “The three of us spent three years and three months in Harim prison after militants attacked our village in 2015. 4 of our relatives were there.

I am ill, I have high blood pressure. When I asked for a blood pressure medication, they put me in a separate cell, where there were a lot of rats. My cousin was with me. There wasn’t enough food, and it was of poor quality. The food we were given for the whole day included a glass of soup and a piece of bread. We were given drugs to cope with high blood pressure only in exceptional cases.”

Ali Husam MasriAli Khusam Masri, student, 22 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Ali Khusam Masri, student, 22 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “When they arrested us, they forced me to put off my clothes and lie on the floor. Six or seven terrorists came and beat me with sticks, then with metal rods, then with belts, and so they beat me until I could no longer moan, could not get up, then they stopped. From time to time they hung me up by the hand and also beat me with sticks while I was hanging like this. After that, I was transferred to a separate cell, with two or three people neighboring the cell.

They used us for different kinds of work. We either cut wood or buried bodies, if there were any. I was 16 and they used me to do some work.”

Muhammed Husam MasriMuhammed Khusam Masri, student, 19 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Muhammed Khusam Masri, student, 19 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “The same happened to me. Some cases were reported when Syrian army soldiers were captured, terrorists cut off their heads, or simply killed them, put them in one room and forced us to live next to their bodies for several days. Sometimes they killed 10-15 people a month and forced us to bury them afterwards.

They were killed either in a special room in the prison, or on the prison square. There were times where I could see 20-25 dead bodies, either inside the prison or in the square behind the prison. They forced to bury them.

Human executions usually took place on Fridays. Every Friday, after the afternoon prayer, they took five villagers from prison and killed them to intimidate the residents of that village. Next Friday, they took prisoners from another village, took them to their native village, gathered the residents and publicly executed these five villagers. They killed people in villages to intimidate residents so that they would not cooperate with the Syrian authorities.

The first year it happened every week – so 20-25 people were killed per month, in the second year it happened not so often, in the third year of my imprisonment, too, there were such murders almost every week.”

Question: “What do you think, how many prisoners were jailed in the Kharima prison?”

Muhammed Khusam Masri, student, 19 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq There was a period when there were over 2,000. It is believed that this is the central prison of Harim.” I sometimes heard that our troops would do an air strike.

Question: “How many people approximately, do you think, have been killed in this prison during these three years?”

Muhammed Khusam Masri, student, 19 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq “Let’s say there were about fifty soldiers, only ten of them were release as part of exchange for the militants, the rest were killed. There were about 100 police officers, almost ninety were killed, and they exchanged the remaining 10 guys for their militants. 80 people from militia were also killed. As to me, I made graves for about 200 people. One day I was preparing graves for 36 persons who were killed in the prison by the militants. In general, when the militants were pushing forward, they killed about 2,000 people in our village and in the neighboring villages.”

Muteb Samir HaimsMuteb Samir Khaims, Idlib Governorate, Idlib, 39 years old, construction worker

Muteb Samir Khaims, Idlib Governorate, Idlib, 39 years old, construction worker: “Now ordinary people are in a very bad situation, their life is very hard, people are afraid of Jabhat an-Nusra. About 1,000 persons from Idlib went missing. They were kidnapped right from their houses, or simply captured in the streets. There are lots of 7-8 aged children missing, who had disappeared. They are sending them to unknown destinations, nobody knows - where to. Young girls go missing here almost every day. My friends who stayed there tell me about that by phone and sent photos of girls who were stolen in the city of Idlib. The information was written there: name, surname, age, from where the person is. Very many girls were kidnapped recently. It was exactly in the city of Idlib.

6Photos of the missing Idlib residents, who are searched by their relatives

Question: Were these photos sent to you by your friends?”

Muteb Samir Khaims, Idlib Governorate, Idlib, 39 years old, construction worker: “Yes, This is what my friends sent me, and a have a lot of information like this. A lot of young girls were captured by Jabhat An-Nusra militants. As an example of one ad: a girl was stolen, or lost, the locality is called Al-Mastuma. Please, if you find or see this girl, inform us by this phone number. Here it says the child was lost, she was taken away when she was near the school and brought to an unknown place. Her father wrote her name and surname, it happened in the daytime.

My friends told me that these girls went missing, they were stolen from Idlib, as they heard, and sent to some unknown destination, but some say that the girls are being sold as a source of organs. No one of them came back home. People say that there is some kind of business, dealing with things like selling people’s organs. It was considered to be a secret job, nobody knows them, their names They are actually Jabhat An-Nusra They have observation posts at all roads that lead to Idlib Governorate, so everyone has to get the permission and is put under the control of Jabhat an-Nusra. It’s not clear who these people are, or where they are from, but we know that they sell organs.”

Ilin Ali ShakuhriIlyin Ali Shakuri, Idlib Governorate, Hambushia, 34 years old, civil servant

Ilyin Ali Shakuri, Idlib Governorate, Hambushia, 34 years old, civil servant: “On August 4, 2012 we were sleeping in our houses. About 4.00 a.m we were wakened by shooting and shouting militants. In the morning they killed my father, my husband and my husband’s father and his brother. They killed 38 men in our village. Me, my children and other women were captured as prisoners. About 106 persons were captured as prisoners - 50 women and 56 children. I spent 3 years and 6 months in captivity with my children. All 106 people lived in one two-floor house with an area of approximately 80 sq.m.”

Question: “Tell us, how did the militants treat you?”

Ilyin Ali Shakuri, Idlib Governorate, Hambushia, 34 years old, civil servant: “They treated us terribly. When they want to capture me, to take me away, I first refused, and then one of them threw a hand grenade into my back (without pulling the pin). I was anxious about my children. So they did what they wanted to. They didn’t give us even any bread to eat. They kept saying bad things about our religion. Sometimes he (the militant) was coming and battered my children. Sometimes he was coming at night, sometimes in the daytime, and then he went away. The militants were from Jabhat An-Nusra. Many of them could not understand each other as they came from different countries. They said that if they don’t get any ransom for us, they will kill everyone.”

Ramid Badiya SelimPictured: Ramid Badiya Selim, Idlib Governorate, Bluta, 45 years old, a builder with his daughters Linar (12 years old), Rent (5 years old) and Shamis (11 years old), who spent 10 months with the militants.

Ramid Badiya Selim, Idlib Governorate, Bluta, 45 years old, odd-jobber: “I have 4 children, they were all at home. When I heard that the militants were pushing forward, I wanted to return home with the Syrian army. When I got back home, I didn’t find my children. I did not know if they were still alive or not. Together with our relatives, we found out where they were held by the militants and 10 months later, with the help of the Red Cross, we found them and with the help of the Syrian army, we got their three daughters back. They had only their elder daughter left alive.

When they were brought to us, we couldn’t recognize them at all. I couldn’t recognize them at first, and neither did they. These are the head problems. Their life was pretty hard. And we got them back, they were very thin, skinny. They had lots of bacteria and viruses on their skin and hair. They couldn’t say a word. Their destiny was hard. Thanks God, I got my daughters back! Only Samar left with me, she was 16.

Fayad Ibragim MariamFayad Ibrahim Mariam, Idlib Governorate, Hambushia, 52 years old, civil servant

Fayad Ibrahim Mariam, Idlib Governorate, Hambushia, 52 years old, civil servant: “I had 2 more children, and for a long time I had no information about them. After I was wounded, I was taken to hospital, I was unconscious and only the next day I could ask about my children, where I could find them. I was told that the militants showed the children on TV and on the Internet, with the name and surname indicated for each of the children, so I got to know that my children were held by the militants.  For 4.5 years I had no information about them. Gaida Mariam is 18 years old now, and Khadar Fayat Mariam is 11, a fourth-grader. They returned only in 2017. When they were captured by the militants, they took the children to Salmz, after that to Jisr ash-Shugur in Idlib, and then to Kalad, Al-Madikh fortress in Idlib. There they spent 4.5 years.

Their life was very hard, they were starving all the time. They didn’t have regular food, even water, the militants made them work hard and cut woods in winter for heating. Sometimes a man was coming late at night and he said who would be chosen to be killed. Sometimes he had an automatic rifle with him, he took someone. They were sleeping on the bare ground, without any mattresses, nothing to feel better

Ibragim Imad Ash Shejh IbragimIbrahim Imad Al-Sheikh Ibrahim, Idlib Governorate, Inbada, 35 years old, civil servant

Ibrahim Imad Al-Sheikh Ibrahim, Idlib Governorate, Inbada, 35 years old, civil servant: “My relatives were hiding from the militants who were walking across the village at shooting at everything. Some parents were hiding together with their little child, when he started crying of hunger, the militants found them and captured. They captured my mother and three children. They were brought to Sabkha first, then to Khariba. After that I got a phone call from a man named Abukami, he told me to call the commanders of the Russian armed forces and ask them to stop bombing Sabkha, otherwise the militants would kill my family. The last call was from the militant named Abul Yama As-Soludi, he proposed to exchange my family for the woman who was a doctor with the militants. Her name was Chusma She was a doctor helping the militants and she came from the USA. At that moment my family was somewhere in Aleppo Governorate. The Syrian army decided to help us and arrange a phone conversation between Chusma and Abul Yama As-Soludi, after that call all communications with the militants finished. Now I don’t know what has happened to my family, they are in captivity now.”

Pictured: Gaida Yousef Hammoud, 43 years old, textile worker, Rajab Al-Abed, 12 years old, Fatima Mustafa Hammoud, 65 years old, retired, and a schoolboy - they are all victims of militant actions, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Gaida Yousef Hammoud, textile worker, 43 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “On April 25, 2015 at 7 a.m the militants attacked our village and we had to escape from them, we ran away to the dessert. But they found us there, as we were unable to escape deeper in the dessert. They arrested us and took somewhere. They arrested all three of us, and Rajab’s brother - Ahmed, who was 11. Then they brought us to prison in Khari, a city located at the border with Turkey, there we spent 2 months and 10 days, after that they exchanged us for their guys.

When we were in prison, we were beaten, starving, we didn’t have even enough water, no medical treatment. And I was wounded after the explosion - I had wounds on my face, on my arm and leg. Sometimes they gave us some rotten bread. The only food we could give to our children - Rajab and Ahmed - was water with salt and this rotten bread. Sometimes we had no food at all.

They stole everything we had. All the belongings - for example, my ring - they took everything. They only left the clothes which we were wearing. No spare garments, to change the dirty ones. There were 15 persons held in one room, without electricity and light. We all had lice and scabies. Children who were born in prison, they all died because of terrible living condition.

The militants regularly battered us, tortured us. They used a cable to beat me. My body became black like my clothes. He battered me so hard, that my skin was black. He was shooting at me twice, and wanted to kill me there, in the presence of other people. They used to say that I was a mulhid and deserved death, as we were Alawites. Or they could come and say - Now we’ll cut off your head. They beat our men very hard.

Once they took my son Ahmed, put him on the square and wanted to kill him. They pointed a rifle at him and wanted to kill him. Then one of them took his rifle, and kicked on my head.

Question: “Rajab, do you remember anything? How did you spend that time in prison with your parents and your brother?”

Radzhab Al AbedRajab Al-Abed, a school boy, 12 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Rajab Al-Abed, a school boy, 12 years old, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “They closed us up. We had no food - only bread and salt. They beat us, beat very hard. They battered my grandmother, with a cable, they beat her on her back. We had a metal bed to sleep on. And they kicked my mother with a rifle. I don’t remember anything else.

Zejnab Razhab HammudZeinab Rajab Hammoud, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 35 years old, housewife

Zeinab Rajab Hammoud, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 35 years old, housewife: “On April 24, 2015 the militants attacked us, we were hiding from them in the woods, but they found us and sent to prison. I spent 3 years and 3 months in that prison. On May 1, 2018 I was released under the hostages exchange program.

My 2-year-old son was with me in that prison. His name is Zei Ayman Fokhrop. My husband was also among the prisoners, he was held somewhere separately. I was pregnant when put in prison, and I felt very sick. I had to give birth to my child there, in prison, and it was very, very hard. My son was born in prison, but he left alive. I got no medical care at all. They said that all the doctors had gone to Turkey. They had no doctors.

The militants wanted to take my child away, to separate us. They tortured my, wanted to take him. They used to give me some milk, but too little, so they wanted to take my son. I begged them to give me some milk for my child, because I had to feed him. But they wanted to take him away. Once or twice per month they could give me a small package of milk. Having this package of milk twice a month was an exceptional case. Then I started feeding my son with mashed bread and water.

The militants tortured and humiliated my elder son, who was 2 years old at that moment. They used to write bad words on his hands. Called him bad names. He still has some mental problems They made the child kiss their feet, put a knife to his throat and a pistol to his head. It happened very, very often. He is still scared. He became mad. They beat him.

They beat us - women. If any of the women started crying or yelling, they beat her even harder. My husband was also battered very often.

We were starving and suffering from cold. It was a torture being there, in prison. The meal they gave us was a wheat porridge called burgot, they gave us boiled potatoes, without butter. They gave a flatbread to everyone, every day. I used to give my bread to my children. The portions were rather small, twice a day - in the morning, and in the evening. I got very sick there, due to lack of food. I had problems with breathing, with lungs. I still suffer from dizziness, because something is wrong with my blood.

Elderly people from our village died in that prison - three women and two men. They were 70-80 years old, and they died of poor food and diseases.

My mother’s uncle, his name was Valy Shkeir, 80 years old. They killed him, because he was sick. They didn’t give him any medical care, they simply threw him down from the mountain. He was very weak and old.

This is a terrible pain to remember. I don’t want to remember that period. That was a pain and torture. To spend 3 years and several months at that prison with the militants.”

Abdel Malik ShejfunAli Abdelkarim Shaifun, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 47 years old, disabled

Ali Abdelkarim Shaifun, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 47 years old, disabled: “I spent 3 years in prison. I was released on May 1, 2018. During these 3 years I was held in different prisons and other locations occupied by the militants - Zainab, Jabal An-Nusr, Chusma, Vaidy, Basuto... The militants were from Ansar Ad-Din. Among the militants were people from Morocco, Arab countries, Dagestan, Egypt. Later on they joined Jabhat An-Nusra

In prison they bullied and tortured my - they beat me with metal rods, tortured with electricity. Once they brought me to the basement, it was dark there, no sounds coming out of there. First they wanted to cut off my head, then another militant said, “Wait, I have another torture device, let’s try it.” They took a glass bottle and put it in my anus. They opened my mouth and put a stone in it. They put me inside a metal cabinet, which looked like a coffin. They locked me there, inside, and let me out only when I had to go to the toiler, or for prayer. I was locked inside this cabinet for a week. And I was also kept in a solitary confinement cell, in the basement, where I spent 2 months.

Food was very poor - a piece of bread and grey water. They made me eat stones and sand.

Several times they hung me with both of my hands above the head, on the hook in the ceiling, and put their foot on my head. They beat me with metal rods and wire. One can still see my bones through the wounds on my body.

Another case was when the militant put a stone in my mouth and kicked my face, he broke my mouth and my teeth.

Once they threw our flag on the ground and told me: “Come on, step on your flag.” I refused. To punish me, one of the militants beat me with a metal rod, he stroke me on my knee, so now I’m not able to walk without crutches. My nephew had to carry me for six months to help me to get to the toilet. Since that time I cannot step on this leg.

Ajman Aziz FahruAyman Aziz Fakhru, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Ayman Aziz Fakhru, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “We were attacked by terrorists, at first we resisted, and then we wanted to escape from there, we went away in different directions, I ran away to Ikfir, where I was arrested and taken to Zampakri – a village away from Ikfir, then I was transferred to the Harem prison. There we spent 2 months, after that they brought us to Morika. In total, the militants captured about 600 persons, there were civilians and military people among them. The militants killed all militaries and threw their bodies in the river, next to us. Those who were wearing military uniforms were killed, others who put it off and pretended to be civilians survived. I think there were over 1,000 persons held in Harem prison. I spent 2 months and 10 days in Morika prison. There 55 persons were held underground.

I spent 4 months in that prison. The militants tortured us. The scar on my forehead left after one of the militants hit me on the head with his boot. They also beat us with sticks.

Food was very poor - just to prevent us dying of hunger. Sometimes they gave us 1-2 flatbreads, a little rice and burgot. We didn’t have enough water to drink.

Wounded people lived together with us, in the prison. Those with minor injuries were given some kind of treatment, and those who were seriously injured were taken and we never saw them again. I’m talking about the people I saw around me.”

Nehrmin Muayad Al HajekNermin Muayad Al-Hayek, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 26 years old, housewife

Nermin Muayad Al-Hayek, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 26 years old, housewife: “I spent over 3 years in the militant prison. Half of my family was also there - me and my child, my mother-in-law, my husband and his brothers with their wives. There were 85 persons in total. Life was very hard, we were starving, didn’t get any medical care, they didn’t even give me any hygienic napkins for my little son. Every 15 days they gave us a bucket of water, to wash ourselves.

My son was 1.5 years old. They didn’t give me any children’s nutrition. No milk, nothing. They gave us rice and burgot. Sometimes they gave us a glass of oil and olives, for 3-4 people.

When I was taken to prison, I was six months pregnant. After 3 months I gave a birth to my son. I was transferred to some other room for childbirth. This was not a maternity hospital, but just a room. A medical woman was with us, she helped me to give birth, and there was another woman, a guard with a gun standing next to us, she was a militant. She was just standing nearby and threatened, scaring us. After I gave birth, they brought me back to prison.

At first I breastfed the baby, and then I had no milk in my breast, because of poor nutrition. I was asking to give me milk for my baby, I knocked at the door. One of the militants said: “If you keep on knocking, I’ll break your arm.” I had to put my baby in the box, it was a bed for him, I was afraid that in the crowded cell someone would step on him - there were very many women in the jail, very many. I showed my baby sleeping this way to the militants. One of them came up, kicked the baby, grasped him and put him up in the air, though the baby was only 2 months old. After that my baby fell ill, he was nauseous, had diarrhea, he was losing weight. He was 2 months old, for 2 months he was sick, every day, he felt worse and worse. He became very thin, his skin was dry, and he looked like an old man. I begged them to call a doctor, but they didn’t do anything. Then some commission visited us to see the living conditions in prison. I asked them for help and they said my son would get medical care. Next day they took us to Dargush, to the hospital, there they made some injection to my son and took us back to prison.

The day after the injection, my son swelled, his body turned blue, his hands swelled and his eyes closed gradually. I knocked at the door and shouted my guards: “My son is dying, help me!” They refused. After that I knocked once again, some man came to see what was wrong with my baby, then we were again taken to hospital in Bab Al-Hava. I was waiting long for the doctors to check up my baby, his breathing became weak. I was afraid that he was going to die on my hands. When they saw that he was really dying, I was sent to some room in the hospital. There was one woman there, look, she says your son has dryness, you see complete dryness, dehydration. He says, unfortunately, your son has died. They didn’t help him and when she watched it, it was already very late.

The prison informed her husband that his son had died. The husband was given the opportunity to dig a grave only 10 cm deep from ground level. He asked permission to dig a deeper grave so that the animals would not get to the body, but they told him that it was enough.

When the next commission arrived, my husband complained that his child had died because he had not received medical care. After that, he was severely beaten and put in solitary confinement for three days.

Some women who were punished for asking for help were not fed. That was punishment, to stop them from asking for help. Usually they were deprived of food for 2 days. Once they punished me, put in a solitary confinement, separated with my son. It was a usual punishment for women, they were put in a solitary confinement and isolated from their children.

We didn’t get any medicines, although sometimes some humanitarian missions arrived that distributed medicines or humanitarian aid. Humanitarian organizations came every 4-5 months, but we received help from them only once in three years.”

Linda Muh Yaddin DubaPictured: Linda Muhyadin Duba, 43, housewife, Kamar Zaher Zhrad, 20 years old, a student, victims of militant actions, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Linda Muhyadin Duba, 43, housewife, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “My family and I spent about 3 years in Kharima prison. There were 35 of us. I, my daughters, my brother’s wives, all with children, and we all were in prison. All of my 4 daughters were with me. The youngest one, Nur, was only 3 years old. Then goes Jamama, 7 years old, Dala - 14 years old and Kamar, 15. My husband got his head cut off, as he was one of the militia.

Food was very poor and bad. And there was not enough of it. They gave us rice, sometimes pasta, bread - in the morning and in the evening. We didn’t have enough water, sometimes the water we smelled of petrol.

Kamar Zaher ZhradKamar Zaher Zhrad, 20 years old, student, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq

Kamar Zaher Zhrad, 20 years old, student, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq: “From time to time people would come, we didn’t know if they were doctors or not, they just gave us medications and left. I had pain in my lever, they took me to the hospital in Haleb for treatment. They brought a wounded militant to the hospital, one doctor told me – you see, your guys wounded our militants, I’ll give you an injection now and your life will end. I was crying, as I was afraid of dying. They made me some injections, I don’t know what is was, but it didn’t help me.

Hana Kasem MasriHana Kasim Masri, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 39 years old, housewife

Hana Kasim Masri, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, 39 years old, housewife: “From April 25, 2015 till May 1, 2018 my family and I were held hostages by the militants. In prison there were 15 of us - my mother, an old woman, my sister, my brother’s wife. I had 4 children - 2 sons, and 2 daughters. My two sons and one daughter were killed when the militants attacked our village, only one daughter survived.

When we were escaping from Shtabraq, on our way the militants shot at us. I was wounded, my daughter was wounded, and the rest of my children died in this attack. My daughter had severe injuries on her legs and her arm.

Shuruk Hasan Fahra

Pictured: Shuruk Hassan Fakhro, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, a student, 20 years old, who was injured as a result of shelling by militants

Hana Kasim Masri, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, housewife, 39 years old: Jasmin was also wounded - in her head. She was an eight-grader. One of the militants stepped with his boots on her head, on her face and called her bad names, cursed her. She was an eight-grader. He was saying that she is bad, she was supporting the Bashar’s regime...

In the photo, Shuruk Hassan Fakhro, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, a student, 23 years old, who was injured as a result of shelling by militants

Yasmin Yusef MasriHana Kasim Masri, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, housewife, 39 years old

Hana Kasim Masri, Idlib Governorate, Shtabraq, housewife, 39 years old: “After that the militants captured us. They were from Ansar ad-Din. First they brought us to Khayus - it is located above Shtabraq, then they took us to Keitsemba, Wadi Basur, Zaini, Harima. Militants from Morocco treated women better, that other militants, but they often beat men. They used to say that our men were mulhids and they should be killed.

Due to poor food and lack of medical care 4 women and one man died when being in captivity. They were elderly people and had heart problems. They didn’t have enough food, and no medical care. My mother is also an elderly person, but thanks God, she survived, we managed to get her out of there before she would die.

They gave us food quite seldom - spaghetti, rice, sometimes potatoes and rotten bread. We could have 0.5 liters of water - a bottle like this only. It was intended for drinking, for washing hands before the prayer, and for washing body. Only one bottle. One bottle for anything.”

A resident of Raqqa, Raqqa Governorate, on the phone: “Today the situation is very dangerous for young girls. If they see a girl walking alone on the road, they will capture her, and it will be very difficult to find her afterwards.”

A resident of Raqqa, Raqqa Governorate, on the phone: “If a person somehow shows respect or love for the Syrian state, then this person won’t get any help or support - neither humanitarian, nor medical. This is prohibited. If the militants find out that a person has good attitude towards the legitimate Syrian authorities, or communicates with his relatives, they usually send hooligans to his home. They can kill him, beat him or destroy his house. If this person attempts to protect himself, they will take him to prison. Once I asked some people I knew - why were you cooperating with Jabhat An-Nusra and doing all these bad things? After that I was captured by the militant police, they beat and tortured me, because I said that life in legitimate Syrian state was better than now. Civilians are scared, they cannot do anything to change the situation, they are waiting for the liberation, their life is hard.”