The ‘escapee of Palmyra’: A witness to ISIS horrors

Friday 24/07/2015
Road to hell

AL-HASAKAH (Syria) - “Terror and fear pre­vailed. Blood spilled in the streets. Death threat was hanging over everyone on the common charge of collaborating with the ‘apostate’ regime.” With these words the “escapee of Palmy­ra” detailed the horrors of living for 21 days under ISIS rule in the Syrian city of Palmyra.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) has seized every opportunity to show that man’s capacity for cru­elty is staggering — posting videos of decapitation, summary execu­tions, crucifixions and the burning of live victims. The escapee, a sen­ior government official, walked for five days in the Syrian desert before he reached Damascus.
“I never thought I would have to flee Palmyra because I never im­agined that it could fall into ISIS hands,” the escapee, who requested anonymity, said in an interview. “I still cannot figure out what hap­pened. All of a sudden and without any prior notice, ISIS fighters invad­ed the city as the army pulled out completely and we found ourselves under the mercy of those who have no mercy at all.”
After three days hiding in the woods fearing ISIS persecution, the “escapee of Palmyra” and eight col­leagues were captured and inter­rogated by the group’s “religious tribunal”. “We were submitted to all kinds of questions, such as ‘What is your relation with the (Syr­ian) regime?’, ‘Did you fight against ISIS jihadists?’, ‘What are Mus­lims’ duties?’, “How many times do you kneel when praying?’, etc.,” he said.
The escapee was lucky as he was sentenced to follow a “course for repentance”, while others were put in prison. After listening for a week to lectures on “ISIS principles” and its interpretations of the Quran, he was considered “penitent” and re­leased.
After “graduating” from the course, he said he tried several times to escape without success. “I even tried to convince myself to coexist with ISIS but with every passing day I was more and more persuaded that life with them was impossible,” he said.
Residents of Palmyra, including children, were forced to watch ex­ecutions of tens of victims, espe­cially in the first three days after the capture of the city, when more than 71 people were put to death for “collaborating with the apostate regime” of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
One especially horrifying ex­ecution haunts the escapee. “I can never forget the sight of this nurse whose fingers were cut off one after the other because she had treated wounded (army) soldiers,” he said. “After severing her fingers, they crucified her in front of everybody, including her three children. She was screaming like crazy in pain. I felt that my heart was going to stop beating. While she was dying they decapitated her children in front of her eyes.
“This is beyond reason. These people are beasts.”
The nurse’s ordeal was not the ugliest execution that he witnessed, the escapee said with a choking voice and tearful eyes. The horrors of watching another medical as­sistant bleeding to death after his body was perforated and the sum­mary execution of 25 Syrian troops by ISIS child soldiers in the amphi­theatre of Palmyra’s famous ruins are nightmares that will haunt the escapee.
“It was the fifth day after the fall of the city,” he said. “ISIS militants forced hundreds of children, in­cluding my nephews, to watch the execution in the ruins. The children have had terrifying nightmares ever since. It was the biggest example of violation of all norms and meanings of humanity. It can’t be worse.”
ISIS crimes continued, targeting people suspected of having links with the Assad regime, including a police volunteer who was de­capitated in front of his wife and children and his severed head and body hanged on the front door of his house.
“They had lists of names of ‘wanted people’, which were obvi­ously prepared before they entered the city with the help of accomplic­es inside,” the escapee said. “They paid a lot of money for those who would denounce and lead them to the so-called suspects.
“They even offered me $2,000 to work for them, which I pretended to accept.”
Recounting how he and 17 others escaped, the escapee said the op­portunity came up when they were asked by the “wali” (governor) of Palmyra to enroll in a specialised course in Raqqa on the “rules and laws of the Islamic State”. “While on the road supposedly to Raqqa, we all decided to flee but I will not disclose how because others might want to escape using the same routes,” he said.
“In short, I would say that we spent five days roaming in the de­sert until we reached a village on the border between Homs and rural Damascus and from there we got into the capital. Here again, we had to go through a series of question­ing and interrogations by Syrian se­curity agencies.” The escapee said he was happy to have fled the grip of the terrorist group, which he said pushed cruelty beyond any bounds. He said videos posted by ISIS de­picting executions did not reflect the reality of their despicable bru­tality.
“The victims whose execution is filmed appear to be calm because they are injected with drugs in order not to resist their executioners but in reality the victims are screaming, imploring for mercy and resisting death till the end,” he added.
The “escapee of Palmyra” said he has recovered from days in the desert without food and enough water. “The most important thing is that I am away from their territory,” he said. “But I will never forget in my whole life the horrors I wit­nessed there.”