Islamic State’s royalties threaten civilian property east of Deir Ezzor
After he finished harvesting the cotton crop on his land located in the town of Dahla, east of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, Mohammad al-Fayyad was exposed to threats from the Islamic State (IS) group, including demands to pay the amount of Zakat, an Islamic term requires all Muslims to donate a portion of their wealth to charity.
The experience that al-Fayyad described as “terrible” affected his life and his family, according to what he told Enab Baladi, as he lives in a state of fear and anxiety about the repetition of these threats.
Although royalties are not new in areas where IS was previously stationed, farmers are still suffering from fears that have gripped them as a result of threats they received in the same context.
Many merchants and farmers in Deir Ezzor are increasingly afraid of IS imposing “Zakat” on them, they told Enab Baladi, as they feel threatened by these threats issued by IS or by gangs that use the organization’s methods to forcefully obtain money from the residents.
SDF’s efforts are not enough
Despite the efforts made by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in successive security and military campaigns to pursue IS cells, this phenomenon has not disappeared from the region over the past years, and some residents believe that the SDF has not taken sufficient measures to curb this threat which remains present since IS withdrew from the region in 2017.
Al-Fayyad said that a number from outside Syria messaged him via WhatsApp and made death threats to him if he failed to pay Zakat. Although the farmer tried to explain the financial hardship he was experiencing as a result of the decline in the production of his land, he received death threats and others targeting his family, and warnings against seeking help from any party to protect him.
With the state of tension that al-Fayyad was experiencing, he decided to seek the help of the local security forces affiliated with the SDF and consulted them about the situation. They advised him not to pay and assured him that these threats were nothing more than “mere threats.”
The farmer’s concerns for his family in the first place prompted him to coordinate with the owner of the international mobile number, who contacted him and agreed with him to place the required amount near the cemetery in the town of al-Busayrah, where he was able to see two people riding a motorcycle who received the amount from the specified location.
Through his personal experience, al-Fayyad believes that the local and security authorities must investigate these incidents and take the necessary measures to protect farmers and citizens from threats and extortion.
Enab Baladi tried to communicate with SDF officials to determine the security efforts it is making in the region to limit this phenomenon, but it did not receive a response.
The SDF always carries out security operations targeting IS sleeper cells in Deir Ezzor governorate and others in cooperation with the International Coalition forces, but operations to collect money from the residents backed by IS are still continuing in the region.
In the town of al-Tayana in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, the IS members set fire to the “Al-Qimma” gas station, owned by a person nicknamed “Abu al-Nour,” on the main road leading to the town, on August 22, which led to it burning to ashes, following numerous threats that the station’s owner ignored about the necessity of paying “Zakat” to the IS organization, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Deir Ezzor.
The owner of the station, “Abu al-Nour,” is a displaced person from the city of al-Quriya in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, where the Syrian regime is based. He and his family fled to the town of al-Tayana for fear of being subjected to persecution and security pursuits by the regime forces and the militias supporting it, according to what he told Enab Baladi.
Upon his arrival in the SDF-controlled areas east of the Euphrates River, he began receiving threats to pay money to the organization, and ignoring them cost him a lot, as unknown persons burned his workplace and caused him severe damage.
IS cells operate actively in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, and from time to time, they demand that merchants pay “Zakat,” and many find themselves forced to accept these demands for fear of damage that may befall them or their property.
The same cells also burned the “Al-Hajna” bakery after its owner refused to pay the sum of money required of him, amounting to 4,000 US dollars. Then, the owner of the bakery was re-targeted days later, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Deir Ezzor, but he survived the targeting.
Jaber al-Sheikh works in the shoe trade in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, and he is among the people who were also subjected to similar threats. He told Enab Baladi that he found a paper stamped with the organization’s logo on the door of his house, on which there were demands to pay a sum of money amounting to $20,000 under the name of “Zakat.”
Al-Sheikh’s inability to pay the amount and his fear of threats to his family forced him to resort to debt through a deferred sale for a year, and he was forced to agree to return the $20,000 he borrowed, along with $35,000 in interest, to avoid damage that might befall his family or property.
The situation that has become common in Deir Ezzor reflects the extortion to which merchants and farmers in the region are exposed to by the organization. Some of them speak of receiving death threats, and others find themselves forced to leave the region and move their businesses to safer places.
Source of funding?
In mid-September 2022, IS issued an audio speech by its former official spokesman, Abu Omar al-Muhajir, in which he sent many messages but also called on IS’ fans and supporters to support it with men and money.
The messages that the organization sent through the publication centered around its demand for “Muslims to join the (IS),” and it specifically mentioned the residents of Syria and Iraq because they were witnesses to IS rule in the region.
The British researcher specializing in the affairs of jihadist groups, Kyle Orton, considered during a previous interview with Enab Baladi that collecting “Zakat” or extortion is not new to the IS organization.
The region had previously witnessed the existence of this policy when it was under its control, and perhaps, in one way or another, it was intended to prove the presence of the organization in the region.
The researcher believes that what is most worrying today about the escalation of the organization’s movements is its ability to establish “temporary” checkpoints in areas of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, and this indicates the presence of a “more complex organization,” according to Orton.
The organization’s funding, as before, remains “mostly local” through “taxes” on the residents of the areas in which it is based, in addition to seized resources.
Orton added that the organization has always been able to adapt and has dabbled in other funding sources, such as cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, to name a few).
On the practical level, the political and security conditions in Syria and Iraq are very beneficial to the organization, especially in eastern Syria, where the terrain helps it do so, in addition to the disputed internal borders between the SDF with the support of the Coalition, and the regime with Russian and Iranian support, according to Orton.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Deir Ezzor, Obadah al-Sheikh, contributed to this report.
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