In Raqqa, clues to Daesh’s bygone media empire

Members of the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walk inside the stadium that was the site of Daesh fighters' last stand in the city of Raqqa, Syria. (AP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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In Raqqa, clues to Daesh’s bygone media empire

RAQQA: “Special operations by the Caliphate’s soldiers!” boasts a torn, bloodstained pamphlet at a bombed-out media kiosk in Raqqa, a symbol of Daesh’s once fearsome propaganda machine.
As well as serving as the Syrian capital of Daesh’s “caliphate,” Raqqa was the beating heart of much of its media output. But since a US-backed offensive brought Daesh’s three-year reign over the city to an end, the backbone of the terrorists’ macabre marketing now lies in ruins.
Scattered across Raqqa are bluish-grey cement kiosks labeled “media points,” where Daesh members would distribute printed publications on everything from their military conquests in Syria and Iraq, to guidelines for fasting and rules on women’s wear.
One such kiosk stands in Raqqa’s central Clock Tower Square, just next to what appears to be an outdoor viewing lounge under a slanted roof missing half of its bricks.
Six dusty rows of alternating green and red cushioned seats face a metal stand where a television should have been. A flat-screen TV lay smashed on the ground nearby.
“Daesh used to broadcast their productions here for residents to watch — footage of their battles, punishments, and nasheeds (Islamic hymns),” said Shoresh Al-Raqqawi, a 25-year-old Raqqa native and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter.
The SDF ousted the last remaining Daesh fighters from Raqqa on Tuesday and while most of the forces had withdrawn, Raqqawi stayed behind as part of a small unit helping to clear rubble from streets and remove mines.
The only sign of movement on Saturday in the heavily damaged neighborhoods around Raqqa’s famous clock tower was by bulldozers and a handful of white SDF pickup trucks.
Raqqawi recounted how Daesh members working at the kiosk would stop young men with mobile phones and erase the songs on their devices, replacing them with Islamic nasheeds.
“Daesh also used to bring young children here, give them sweets, potato chips, and biscuits, and make them watch the videos and listen to their songs,” he added.
For years, Daesh has operated a sophisticated and multilingual media machine, complete with online magazines, radio broadcasts and social media campaigns highlighting its military prowess and gruesome tactics.
It often used minors in its propaganda output to ratchet up the shock factor, boasting of child soldiers that it called “Cubs of the Caliphate.”
While Daesh media continue to operate from elsewhere following Raqqa’s fall, there has been a shift in tone, with the narrative nostalgically recalling the caliphate.
On Saturday, the names and logos of Daesh’s many outlets could be seen emblazoned on a tattered, greyish banner near the media kiosk in Clock Tower Square: Al-Bayan Radio, Al-Hayat, Al-Furqan, and Al-Naba pamphlet.
The group used the channels to publish grisly footage online of the punishment and even execution of alleged opponents, including Western hostages or those accused of being spies. But while most of the world could look away, Raqqawi and fellow SDF fighter Khalid Abu Walid were often forced to watch these practices live.
“They would whip and hit people so hard,” said Abu Walid, 21, telling AFP how shops and streets in the roundabout would shutter and residents would gather around to watch whatever punishment was being doled out.
“All roundabouts in Raqqa had media points like this,” Abu Walid said.
Torn Daesh papers can be found on almost every damaged Raqqa street, providing clues to the behemoth administration that the terrorist organization once ran there.
One dusty card features a table recording the number of times its owner received zakat, or charitable offers, from others.
Another document details the handover of the hisba — or police office — from one manager to another.
On Saturday, a unit of foreign intelligence officers dressed in military gear and thick neon orange gloves could be seen inspecting a home near Raqqa’s infamous Al-Naim roundabout.
“They are searching suspected Daesh headquarters, which they heard about from residents who escaped the city,” an SDF fighter accompanying them said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
“They are looking for bodies, identification cards, and other intelligence.”


Trump: Turkey making ‘terrible mistake’

Turkish government officials did not comment on Trump’s remarks when they spoke after prayers to mark the start of the festival. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2018
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Trump: Turkey making ‘terrible mistake’

  • Turkey has demanded that the US hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in the US and who Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup attempt
  • A Turkish court last week rejected Brunson’s appeal for release, drawing a stiff rebuke from Trump

ISTANBUL: The lira weakened against the dollar on Tuesday after US President Donald Trump said he would give Turkey no concessions in return for the release of a detained American pastor, the latest salvo in a worsening rift between the NATO allies.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Trump criticized Ankara over the detention of the evangelical Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, and said he was not concerned that his tough stance against Turkey could end up hurting European and emerging market economies.
Brunson, who is originally from North Carolina and has lived in Turkey for two decades, has been detained for 21 months on terrorism charges, which he denies. The pastor has become an unwitting flashpoint for the diplomatic tension, which has accelerated the crisis in the lira.
Trump said that, after he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen, he thought Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan would then release Brunson.
“I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” Trump said.
The lira weakened to 6.0925 against the US currency by 1111 GMT, from a close of 6.0865 on Monday, when Turkish markets began a holiday to mark the Muslim Eid Al-Adha festival that continues for the rest of this week.
Trade was thinner than usual and probably mainly offshore, with local markets closed for the holiday. The currency has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year. However, selling on Tuesday was limited due to a broadly weaker dollar.
Turkish government officials did not comment on Trump’s remarks when they spoke after prayers to mark the start of the festival.
Devlet Bahceli, leader of a nationalist party allied with Erdogan’s AK Party, told reporters: “We have no business with those who love Brunson more than us.”

Prayers and gifts
Erdogan, who had been expected to speak to reporters after morning prayers, made no public statement.
He has repeatedly cast the currency crisis as an attack on Turkey but has stopped short of singling out any one country.
He prayed on Tuesday morning at a mosque near the tourist resort of Marmaris on the south coast and then handed out gifts to local children, the Milliyet newspaper reported.
He also spoke by phone to soldiers stationed near the border with Iraq, sending them greetings for Eid Al-Adha.
“I believe that as long as you stand tall our flag will not fall, our call to prayer will not fall silent and this homeland of ours will not be divided,” the Hurriyet newspaper reported him as saying.
On Monday, he appealed to Turks’ religious and patriotic feelings ahead of the holiday, promising they would not be brought “to their knees” by the economic crisis.
Turkey has demanded that the US hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in the US and who Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup attempt, but Washington has balked at this.
A Turkish court last week rejected Brunson’s appeal for release, drawing a stiff rebuke from Trump. The US president — who counts evangelical Christians among his core supporters — has said he would double previously announced tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.
On Monday Turkey initiated a dispute complaint with the World Trade Organization over the tariffs.
Separately, ratings agency Fitch said on Tuesday that tight liquidity amplified risks for Turkish companies.
Another ratings agency, DBRS, said European banks with Turkey exposure face a manageable capital impact.
Underlining the increased diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the US, the US Embassy in Ankara came under gunfire on Monday. Nobody was injured and Turkish authorities later detained two men over the incident.