RURAL ALEPPO – A small tent, barely enough to house a barber’s chair and a mirror, is all Walid carried as he fled his village when it was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In the middle of August, the Sunni militant group advanced into northern Aleppo province, in areas that had been largely under the control of Syrian opposition groups. ISIS took control of 13 villages including Walid’s hometown of Dabeq.
People fled, fearing mass executions by ISIS fighters who deemed the towns’ residents “infidels” because of their collaboration with non-ISIS groups.
Walid, 35, his wife and their four children fled to a makeshift camp near the Turkish border. He set up a barber shop in a tent, hoping the proceeds would be enough to keep his family clothed and fed.
“ISIS committed horrible massacres in my village and neighboring villages,” he says, dragging his scissors over a client’s hair. “I knew some of the victims very well. Their only accusation was collaborating with the revolutionaries.
“ISIS claim they are carrying out Islamic doctrine, and then they kill innocent people. For me, they are criminals with no respect for human beings and their legitimate rights. They don’t represent Islam.”
On the other side of Aleppo province, residents fear ISIS will continue its march, eventually forcing them out of their homes as well. Meanwhile they contend with daily shelling by Syrian government forces.
Ahmad, 24, has been fighting with the Islamic Front, a rival group to ISIS that has a less extremist demeanor, for two years. He joined the group after being expelled from his university because he participated in an anti-government protests.
“We will resist and fight with everything we have to stop ISIS,” he says, “because we realize the magnitude of the massacres the organization will commit against our people.”
But despite ISIS’s unpopularity among Aleppo’s civilians, U.S.-led airstrikes against the group have been met with trepidation.
Abu Bilal, 30, is a former economics student at Aleppo University.
“I think that this intervention is important, even if it [is coming] late [in the conflict],” he says, “but I’m very worried about the double-standards policy [of] the Americans … these strikes should also include Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian army forces.”
Ahmad, originally from the village of al-Bab, fled when it was taken over by ISIS earlier this year. On a recent day, he and his wife, three children and parents searched for a suitable house to rent in an area of Aleppo not yet reached by ISIS.
Ahmad says that he left his home because it was close to where ISIS fighters were stationed, so he feared it would become collateral damage during the U.S.-led strikes. Residents of al-Bab, he adds, are in a state of panic, with many now fleeing the city.
“I’m not optimistic about the military intervention in Syria,” he said. “I do not expect that it will bring anything but more destruction to our country.”