Ghanem Omair, a food merchant in Deir ez-Zor, told Al-Monitor that IS cells threatened him on three occasions, demanding him to pay the zakat. He said, “I received three WhatsApp messages from an unknown number. [The caller] identified himself as a caliphate soldier. He threatened to kill my family and bomb my stores if I refuse to pay $5,000. I feared for the life of my family and thus paid them the money. I fled with my family to the city of Hasakah to avoid more threats in the future.”
The SDF officer believes that IS aims to impose authority over civilians, while resorting to kidnappings and brutal killings in order to intimidate them and force them to pay the zakat. It seeks to preserve its financial resources through tax or zakat collection from civilians, he added.
Despite the crackdown the Kurdish-led SDF are conducting in Deir ez-Zor and its countryside, IS continues to assassinate civilians in the SDF-held areas. Media sources revealed Dec. 29 that IS cells kidnapped and killed in late December Omar Hamdan, a youth from the village of al-Zer.
On Dec. 22, IS militants also killed Barakat al-Abdullah al-Muhammad, a displaced youth from the town of al-Busayrah. In another incident, militants had shot dead a young civilian named Muhammad al-Jasem al-Barzi and dumped his body near the General Security building in al-Susah in Deir ez-Zor countryside.
Shamil Hazem, a photojournalist from Deir ez-Zor, told Al-Monitor, “The security crackdown led by the SDF — with air support from the US-led coalition — has not hindered IS that continues to launch operations, including killings, terrorist bombings and other attacks. Meanwhile, IS cells also continue to threaten people into paying the zakat through WhatsApp messages.”
Ali Ghasham, a teacher from Deir ez-Zor countryside whose brother was kidnapped by IS six months ago, told Al-Monitor, “We do not know why my brother was kidnapped. He was only 13 years old when IS kidnapped him while on his way back home from school. We know nothing about him.”
Ghasham said that IS beheaded many civilians for dealing with the SDF or the regime, or for refusing to pay zakat. “IS commits most of its horrific killings in the countryside where they throw the victims’ bodies in the wilderness of Deir ez-Zor countryside. In November, IS cells beheaded three young men in the villages of Takihi, Hujna and Daman in the northern Deir ez-Zor countryside, after kidnapping them and demanding a $6,000 ransom for each. Yet the deteriorating economic situation prevents the families from paying these large sums, and they subsequently lose their family members,” he concluded.