ISTANBUL -- Syrian activists Ibrahim Abdul Qader and Fares Hamadi were lucky enough to escape the Islamic State’s wrath in the besieged city of Raqqa. But Turkey would prove no safer than Syria. They’d lose their heads at knifepoint, like so many of the militant group's victims, in the Turkish border city of Sanliurfa.
Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently is an activist group frequently cited by Western media that documents the Islamic State's crimes in Raqqa. The group confirmed the grisly deaths of the two young men on Friday, saying that the Islamic State undoubtedly carried out the killings.
Abdul Qader was one of the leading members of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. Hamadi, though not a formal member, was an activist from Raqqa with ties to the activist group.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, took Raqqa over completely in January 2014, driving out or killing Kurds, Christians and other groups in the area. Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently provides a rare look into the heart of the ISIS “caliphate,” where public beheadings are routine, women are forcibly cloaked in thick black fabric and foreign fighters roam the streets, promoting a violent brand of Islam that Muslims worldwide call sacrilegious.
The group has 18 members inside the city and eight elsewhere. The identities of those working for the organization within the city are shrouded in mystery for their protection. They monitor what happens there and distribute their findings to members based outside Raqqa, like Abdul Qader, who then write up reports, post to social media and talk to press.
Without the group's reporting, the rest of the world would likely have no access to information about what's happening in the extremist stronghold, located just some 60 miles from Turkey. Journalists cannot safely report there and ISIS controls the narrative, releasing glossy propaganda videos depicting what seems like an idyllic place to live.
Syria's civil war has raged unabated for nearly five years. At least 250,000 Syrians have died and half the country’s population has been displaced, with the regime frequently dropping crudely made barrel bombs on civilians and ISIS attempting to establish an Islamic caliphate across the region.
The two beheadings on Turkish soil heighten concerns that Turkey is not doing enough to crack down on ISIS rings within the country. The relatively porous 500-mile-long border with Syria, often called a “jihadi highway,” is the doorway to the “caliphate” that so many young men, women and children have crossed to join.
Abdul Qader is the second member of the group to be killed by ISIS, according to another leading member who goes by the pseudonym Abu Mohamed Raqqawi. The extremists also beheaded one of the group’s founders, Moataz Billah, in Raqqa last year. And this summer, the father of another member was killed because of his son’s defiant activism in the face of terror.
ISIS and its supporters have turned to social media to intimidate and threaten Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.
Raqqawi says he has grown used to the constant death threats over the past several years. He doesn’t want to disclose his location, but says he’s in a safe place.
After news broke on Friday that Abdul Qader and Hamadi were dead, Twitter accounts applauded the slaughters in the name of ISIS.
“They thought that in Turkey they were safe and isolated from the knives of the caliphate,” one tweet read in Arabic. “They have lost and are disappointed, for whoever maligns against the caliphate shall have their blood spilled.” (The account that posted the tweet has since been suspended.)
“They were slaughtered silently just as they lied silently using the hashtag #Raqqaisbeingslaughteredsilently,” read another. “Consequences await the other bacteria so that the [Islamic] nation may be purified of their scum."
The deaths are a blow to the activist group, but it plans to continue in its efforts to expose the Islamic State's crimes.
Raqqawi, still trying to process his friend and colleague’s grisly killing, says he spoke with Abdul Qader about work just last night. He told Raqqawi he'd call the next day. That call never came.
Meanwhile, death threats continue to overwhelm Raqqawi's Twitter timeline, Facebook inbox and cell phone.
"Even at this moment, they are threatening me," he said.