Below are two accounts of the horrific terrorist crimes against Syrian people in al Houta, Raqqa. First is translated from an Al Akhbar article [written by Firas al Hakkar]. The second is from Al Hayat. Both are from 2014
“Houtat Sulūk”, which is located within the desert of the northern province of Reqqa, used to be considered as one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the province, a geological landmark, and a promised tourism project in the Syrian government’s future plans; however it is no longer a tourist destination for hikers and sightseers. These days it has been transformed into a mass grave of the bodies of the dead and the living alike. It is an unmarked grave for those who are suffering most in the NATO imposed Syrian crisis..
Geographically and geologically, “Houtat Suluk” is a giant opening or pit in the earth, that has a distinctive terrain, formed by natural factors, which made it a popular destination for visitors, adventurers and travellers coming from all over the world. However its bottomless depths have remained a mystery, nobody has ever fully explored them.
If somebody fell into the pit, they were lost without trace. It’s located approximately 65 km away from Raqqa city, close to the town of Sulūk (10 km away from the Turkish borders). “Houtat Suluk” # the Abyss of Suluk, as known locally, had been formed because of natural underground soil erosion due to the erosion of surface running water (in the past geological eras). It’s not the only one of its kind in the desert of Raqqa province, however it’s the largest, the most dangerous, and incomparable in terms of depth, vastness, the form, and the beauty of the terrain “, said the traveler Ibrahim al-Ahmad to “Al-Akhabr”.
Starting from late 2012, that landmark, along with the whole province of Raqqa and its capital, started gradually to slip out of the Syrian government’s control to the invaders and terrorists, starting with the FSA (Free Syrian Army); then the Nusra Front fighters, and finally ISIS fighters. It started in Suluk which became a Turkish backed FSA command centre , leading military operations against the neighbouring villages and towns. They also targeted Syrian army checkpoints one after the other. Many of the Syrian army captives were murdered and left to rot at the side of the road.
A humanitarian activist stated to “Al-Akhbar”: “ The FSA armed battalions began several military operations against the Syrian army checkpoints, most notably the one against “Bir ‘Asheq” checkpoint (very close or in Tell Abiad, a Syrian frontier town on the Turkish borders) which is heavily fortified, but the FSA battalions managed to occupy it, and they executed around 20 Syrian soldiers and officers who refused to either surrender or join them (as defectors from the Syrian army to the FSA)”. He continues: “After that execution, the FSA filmed their bodies lying on the ground, and published the video on YouTube. The bodies remained like that for 3 days before being discarded by dumping them in the Houta pit.
That act caused outrage among most people who were determined to bury the bodies after documenting the Syrian soldiers’ names, so their families and parents would know the fate of their sons, but they were overruled by the heavily armed FSA.
Horror spread in the hearts of the local residents. Their fairy tales which they used to tell their children to prevent them going to close to the Houta pit, became a reality, a horror story that was true.
The so-called “ISIS” won the battles against both the FSA and Nusra militias, and announced Raqqa province as its first Islamic State in their great project to establish “the Islamic Caliph” (as the result of the unification of many small Islamic states). ISIS fighters managed to capture great number of militants of these factions, and after being arrested and investigated, they released their “legitimate judgement” to execute some, and throw the others alive into “Houta”! Some of those who had been thrown in the Houta by ISIS, were the very same ones who threw the bodies of Syrian soldiers in that same abyss!
One of the fanatic fighters of ISIS in Raqqa told “Al-Akhbar”: “Anyone who refuses to be with us [wahabi extremism] will meet their fate, death. The manner of execution is irrelevant. Those whose bodies have been dumped into “Houtat Suluk” have reaped what they have sown, and we force them to face their fate, to be an example to others who may be tempted to turn from our Islam, and follow the lords of blasphemy”
Within the last 2 years, around 2,000 corpses have been dumped into that hole, in addition to many who were flung in alive, and left to die. After a period of time, local residents noticed hundreds of birds of prey had spread around the Houta (the video shows many big birds indeed gathering and flying each time they throw a dead body in it, and one of the terrorists was joking that the birds stopped eating grains and cereals and preferred eating human flesh and meat), and the cavity began to emit foul odours. Because of that, the militants of ISIS poured crude tanker oil into the pit (which is one of hundreds stolen crude oil tankers and cistern vehicles that are smuggled daily to Turkey to fund ISIS from stolen Syrian oil), then set fire to it to allegedly prevent the spreading of diseases and epidemics.
“Houte Suluk” will remain as a living witness to the crimes that have been committed against humanity, which the related international organizations – who are concerned in documenting war crimes – neither document nor report.
When most of the ISIS fighters in Deir al-Zour moved to Raqqa, which is now a black province in every sense of the word, countless executions took place continually and families were never allowed to collect the bodies of their loved ones. In one incident, ISIS filmed an execution of three men, and when the film was leaked, it was a heart-wrenching experience to the families of the victims.
The people finally found out where the countless bodies were sent. Thirteen kilometers south of Raqqa is an empty wilderness called Ghota or Houta (Canyon-pit). There one finds terrorists dumping the lifeless bodies of their victims in this deep gorge which funneled the bodies into what seems to be a huge endless pit:
Civilians and fighters alike are having a change of mind about the so-called revolution share how grim life has turned out to be. Al-Hayat, a Middle East news secretly met a number of civilians in Raqqa and reported that many of the Raqqa city features have been painted black, to match the color of the ISIS banner of the Caliphate. Women, like the Ka’ba shrine, wear black from head to toe, and you can’t ignore how many foreign fighters there are. They are called the muhajirin [immigrants] and come mostly from Chechnya. They are in Raqqa with their families and can be recognized because they are taller than the locals and look different.
The immigrant fighters have a long story. The civilians each told their stories, or what they witnessed, with the immigrants. They all said that the population won’t remain silent for long. The pressure on the civilians will lead to an explosion, according to “Mohammad,” 24. He and his family fled Deir al-Zour. He said, “[The following story] summarizes what the immigrants think about the people of the city and the region. One day, when I was at an internet cafe filled with Tunisian fighters, [I overheard one fighter say] to his friend via Skype to come do jihad in Syria, especially in Raqqa, where food is abundant and where there are many empty homes, and where the women are pretty, and ‘the men are cowards.’”
Chechen immigrants have their own story. Many of them came to Syria with the intensification of fighting, and most joined Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS. In the words of more than one person we met, Chechen immigrants have special privileges over others because they came with all their family members. And that can be noticed as you walk Raqqa’s streets.
Rim, a Raqqa local said that, “Chechen immigrants are living a luxurious life. You always see them in the city’s restaurants and they buy food in large quantities. Their children keep buying chocolate, especially foreign chocolate, such as Mars or Snickers, which cost 100 or more Syrian pounds. The Chechens also have the latest technology in mobile phones, computers, computer tablets and many others.”
Defecting from ISIS equals death
The immigrant’s life isn’t always easy. His jihad in Syria could also be a curse. Recently, many immigrants were executed in the field, according to Raqqa locals. Not a week goes by without someone being executed. There have been as many as five executions per week. The charges against them range from disbelief in God to leaving the “group” [ISIS]. But according to the locals, executions are for those who defected from ISIS after they saw how it truly functions.
Patrols to enforce Islamic attire
“They leap over the walls so as not [to] give us a chance to correct matters,” said “Sarah” to Al-Hayat about what’s happening in her high school, where ISIS conducts foot or car patrols to check that women are wearing Islamic attire. ISIS fighters jump over the walls of the schools to surprise the girls and to catch those not complying. Sarah added, “The patrol consists of two teams, the first consists of men who jump over the school’s wall, and the second consists of women who enter through the main door. They are mostly the wives of immigrant fighters and they enter the school armed with machine guns and beat up students breaking [ISIS] laws. In many cases, the students are arrested along with the teachers and the school director as punishment for violating ISIS laws. They are released hours later after being humiliated by the patrol elements.”
Men also get punished
Men are not better off than the women under the rule of the black state. Men are harassed in different ways. The man is the first and last one responsible for the actions of the women of his family. Men are often punished as a result of the behavior of a girl within the family, such as lack of commitment to Islamic dress. Men are often given several lashes in the public squares for violating some Islamic law. Anyone who smokes or sells cigarettes is given a punishment ranging from having his store closed to being given several lashes.
We entered Raqqa at prayer time. ISIS has forced everyone to pray, and all shops have to close at prayer time and all men must go to mosque, or a group of shop owners can put a prayer mat and perform their prayers in congregation.
“Khaled,” 40, told Al-Hayat, “Many men don’t actually pray but pretend to be doing so in front of ISIS patrols that roam the city. … Many worshipers pray without ablution to avoid harm. Many shop owners lock themselves in their shops by lowering the iron doors till prayer time ends. However, ISIS patrols found out, so ISIS now goes to the shops and sometimes pulls their owners out and forces them to perform prayer.”
“Mohammad,” a Raqqa resident and a friend of Khaled, said, “One mosque preacher who is of Tunisian origin said during a Friday sermon that the reason the people are being forced to pray is so that they get admitted to paradise. Then a worshiper said that some are praying while doing a lot of things forbidden by God. The Tunisian imam answered: We will take you to paradise, even if we have to drag you in chains on the way there.”
Many throughout Syria have become aware of ISIS’s religious strictness. ISIS conducts tests on those stopped at checkpoints. They ask them questions about how many rak’aas [kneels] are performed for each prayer time and the way one is supposed to pray. At first we doubted that, but then we saw it ourselves in Azaz in the Aleppo countryside. In Azaz, an ISIS fighter asked the driver the number of rak’aas for each prayer. The driver answered wrongly, so the Chechen ISIS fighter asked the driver to get out of the car, took him to a nearby field, explained to him how to pray properly, and didn’t let the driver go till after praying four full rak’aas.
This is NOT Islam!