Inside ISIS’s Torture Brigades

Photo Illustration by Tthe Daily Beast
Talking to girls. Fibbing in court. Drinking a beer. A thousand things will get you tortured in the Islamic State. Unless you’re a suspected CIA spy. Then you lose your head.

Von Michael Weiss|THE DAILY BEAST

For all the attention paid to ISIS, relatively little is known about its inner workings. But a man claiming to be a member of the so-called Islamic State’s security services has stepped forward to provide that inside view. This series is based on days of interviews with this ISIS spy. Read part one here and part two here.

Part Three: Ministries of Fear

ISTANBUL — “They have a cage in this square,” Abu Khaled said, describing the place where ISIS justice is meted out in al-Bab, the Syrian town in which, until recently, he’d served with the state security apparatus of the so-called Islamic State. This is the same place where beheadings take place from time to time. But the cage is always there, and there’s almost always someone inside.

“They put people in it for three days. And they say why he is there,” the man we’ll call Abu Khaled told me at one of our meetings over three days in Istanbul last month. “One time, a man went to the court as a witness and he lied. They put him in the cage for three days. One guy was hanging out with girls; they weren’t his relatives and not married. He spent three days. For cigarettes, you spend like one day, two days, three days. It depends.”

Abu Khaled was describing a place I’d been. I was in al-Bab during Ramadan 2012, in the relatively early days of the revolt against the Assad regime, when the town was still controlled by local rebel forces, and I saw how that same square came alive at night when activists, rebels, or local civilians transformed themselves into ad hoc cleanup crews—the Free Syrian Street Sweepers—picking up detritus and rubble left over from regime shelling, or manning field hospitals in the basement of the local mosque, because the real hospital in al-Bab had been targeted and badly damaged by the Syrian military.

There was even an all-night café in those days where you could watch international news, drink smoothies, smoke shisha, and talk endlessly about everything and anything, without the fear that Assad’s mukhabarat would be listening in. All that is gone now, Abu Khaled assured me. The café is closed. No one comes out at night anymore because there’s an ISIS-enforced curfew. And the locals have to worry about everything they say, and to whom.

As with Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein, so with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS is absolutely paranoid about infiltration, and its wild dragnets for capturing fifth columnists and foreign agents seem premised on preemption rather than exposure. Fear must be maintained to keep people from so much as thinking of resistance.

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