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A Syrian Backlash Against al-Qaida

The al- Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), known colloquially by its Arabic acronym, ‘Daesh,’ has earned the disdain of Syrian civilians for its brutal practices and hard-line ideology.

Written by Ronak Housaine & Alison Meuse Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

ISIS has been accused of kidnapping, extortion, and summary executions.

We tracked the outcry on social media and asked Syrians from across the country what they thought of ISIS. Tellingly, most of them used pseudonyms — ISIS has been harsh in its dealing with critics on the ground.

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“There was no real ISIS presence in Syria until three months ago… now they are all over the place,” Ahmed, a former law student in the northwest city of Saraqeb. “Al-Qaida is not our way, we are definitely not pleased with this and we try everything we can to oppose them with whatever we can.”

ISIS “has sold the souls of the Syrian people on a golden plate to Assad,” said Jumana, a 23-year-old Arabic literature student from Damascus.

“They couldn’t beat the Americans in Afghanistan or the Iranians in Iraq, so they came here to rule over the Syrians, who are already in a war with a criminal regime,” added Walid Haji, a 26-year-old from the northeast province of Hasakeh.


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Lama, a 34-year-old painter from Damascus, shared her theory behind the rise of ISIS. “The Iranian plan succeeded in Syria: have an extreme Sunni kill another extreme Sunni,” she said. It was a popular perception.

“Daesh is funded by Iran,” said Abu Jihad, 32, who lives in Afrine, a town in the northern province of Aleppo.

ISIS pursued the same approach as al-Qaida did in Iraq—they don’t care about anyone’s opinions, and they rule by the use of force and the threat of death to anyone at any moment,’ said Jana, a 25-year-old activist from Homs.

“Their practices are like those of the regime: targeting the minds of the people, arresting people just for having a different opinion and torturing them without a second thought,” she said

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ISIS vs. Syria’s Activists

Activists were enraged after the killing of anti-regime activist Hazem al-Azizi, who was killed by an ISIS sniper in the northern Syrian city of Azaz.

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One protester in the northeast Damascus suburb of Douma—a stronghold of the Islamist Liwa al-Islam brigade and the FSA — holds a sign. “We didn’t have revolution against a tyrant…for another tyrant coming to control us in the name of religion!!!” it reads. “Daesh, get out.”


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In Hama, a traditionally conservative city and the longtime stronghold of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, one protester had fighting words for ISIS. “Those who belong to Syria, Syria is for all of you, he said. “Those who belong to al-Qaeda, go to Afghanistan.”


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Writing on the Wall: Dueling Graffiti, Facebook Posts

In this photo, ISIS wrote this message on a street wall. “We are the people to whom God granted Islam. If we are looking for glory without God, then we will be humiliated.” In response, someone crossed out ISIS and spray-painted over it. “Free Syria! Syria for the Syrians.”


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It was not the only anti-ISIS graffiti posted online. In the Aleppo district of Bustan al-Qasr, someone similarly painted over an ISIS logo demanding, “What is this religion that orders you to kill activists?”


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“Goddamn you. I am a Syrian from Homs and I will fight those who fight against Islam. Do whatever you want, calling yourselves free people—you are Godless!” one commentator wrote regarding anti-ISIS graffiti.

Dozens of Arabic language Facebook groups have sprung up in opposition to ISIS, rejecting its Islamic credentials and its brutal tactics.

This Facebook post, written on the page “The ‘so-called’ Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” is addressed to Daesh:

“If you were honest, Homs would await you, Damascus would await you, but you are too cowardly to even face the regime. You came here only to control the liberated areas, to construct your own project, which doesn’t relate to Islam in any way. If you were real Muslims, we would all be behind you.”

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This graphic reads: “Syria is colored by all of her people,” in rejection of ISIS’s black flag.

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“Whatever is considered apostate by Daesh,” one user said, “is the holiest of all.”


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