The two men killed in the latest execution video from ISIS likely were among a handful of activists who remain within the terrorist army’s caliphate, working secretly under the noses of the black-clad jihadists to offer the world a glimpse from inside the belly of the beast.
The men, identified on the gruesome video as Bashar Abdul Atheem, 20, and Faisal Hasan al-Habib, 21, wore the signature orange jumpsuits and “confessed” to spying before being tied to wooden posts and shot point-blank in the head. The group Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently, among the most prominent activists who send dispatches, images and video out to world media organizations from inside ISIS’ Syrian stronghold, denied that the men were part of its efforts.
Whether the disavowal was genuine or offered to protect others may never be clear. But the executions show the risk faced by those who dare to expose atrocities from within ISIS strongholds, said Christoph Wilcke, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher for the Middle East and North Africa.
“There are no lengthy trials,” Wilcke said. “ISIS is quick on the trigger. The risks these people take to speak out are enormous.”
“There are no lengthy trials. The risks these people take to speak out are enormous.”
- Christophe Wilcke, Human Rights Watch
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a loose confederation of Syrians who began four years ago in peaceful protest of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but were trapped in the city when ISIS took control, has documented the horrors of life under ISIS, telling a story the world’s media organizations cannot. Through its website, the organization has digitally smuggled out images of gays being thrown from buildings, Christians being beheaded in public forums and the general horrors of life under the medieval dictates of the Islamist thugs of ISIS.
The photos and videos are taken surreptitiously, and the activists have for more than a year played a game of cat and mouse with the forces occupying their city. A founding member who goes by the pseudonym Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi told FoxNews.com getting caught taking a picture in public means certain death.
“No one is allowed to take photos, and if they catch you they will capture and execute you,” he said in an interview in Turkey, where he was finally forced to flee last year as ISIS moved closer to unmasking him. “But we have some tricks to take pictures and videos to document all the crimes by ISIS.”
Raqqawi, who still helps run the group’s website and remains in contact with confederates within the city, said ISIS has meted out death sentences from mosques, calling for all followers to kill anyone caught spying within the caliphate. He is not the only member of the group who was forced to flee Raqqa.
“I was wanted by ISIS. They came to the house looking for me. I had to hide for two days in a friend’s basement before I could get out,” another member, who goes by Azoz Alhamza, told FoxNews.com. “If I ever go back, I will be executed.”
Raqqawi said ISIS began rounding up activists soon after it took the northern city in 2013. One founding member, 20-year-old Al Moutaz, was killed in April 2014 after refusing to divulge the identities of his fellow resistors.
A similar group is operating in ISIS’ Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. Since ISIS seized the city, Iraq’s second-largest, in June 2014, a group calling itself Mosul Eye has been publishing photographs and accounts via Facebook on ISIS teachings, destruction of historical monuments and the inner workings of the group’s black market oil trade. Mosul Eye is well known to ISIS, which has countered by borrowing a page from Saddam Hussein and recruiting civil servants, cab drivers, salesmen and shop owners to rat out the dissidents.
“I have learned to be secluded because not being careful with what I say and do could cause my death,” a Mosul Eye activist who goes by Maouris Milton told FoxNews.com. “There has not been one moment I pass through an ISIS checkpoint without feeling terrified or thinking, ‘This moment might be my last,’ especially when I see them carrying lists of names for those considered heretics or outlaws.
“I go almost every day and stay out until the late hours, by 10 p.m., the streets are almost empty,” he said. “Some days are better than others, and some days I break down.”
Just a few weeks ago, Mosul Eye temporarily shut down its Facebook page amid threats and attempts to hack it. But days later, it resumed its mission of bringing the “reality of what is happening in Mosul to the world,” publishing the names of seven people killed by the Islamic radicals.
“ISIS calls them spies, and we call them Life Makers,” read the Mosul Eye post. “May your souls rest in peace, and may your souls and bodies guide and light up Mosul’s way to be free of ISIL.”
Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said both affiliated and citizen journalists in much of Iraq and Syria have been placed on “death lists,” and that some captured Iraqis are sent to Raqqa and ordered to use their media skills to “help with the propaganda” materials disseminated by ISIS militants.
“Their families, too, are in a lot of danger, and that’s how they make the journalists obey their orders,” Mansour said, adding that ISIS is also known to take over media stations and sell the equipment to make money before bombing the facility. “The risks have been going up.”
But despite the grim uncertainties activists face, Raqqawi vowed the threats and killings will provide motivation to continue “relaying this darkness to the world.”
“There are a lot of people supporting us from the city; they put all their hope in us,” he said. “We will continue our revolution and fulfil our dream, or we will die trying. This is what our pledge at ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ is about.”
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay