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ICC Note: Syrian Christian sheds light on what the last two years living under ISIS in Raqqa, Syria was like. Raqqa was overrun by the Islamic State on 13 January 2014. When faced with the choice to pay a jizya or flee, John chose to stay with his family to protect their livelihood. The last two years have seen gruesome conditions and brutality under the Islamic State rule.

07/01/2016 Syria (Christian Today): A Syrian Christian who lived in ISIS-stronghold Raqqa has described the horror of living under militant rule.

John (name changed for protection), a student in his early 20s, recalled in an interview with persecution charity Open Doors the day that Raqqa was overrun by Islamic State on 13 January 2014.

“They were coming from Iraq with tanks, military vehicles, and even a big rocket that was at least five metres in length,” he said. “It was very intimidating”.

ISIS militants gathered together the church leaders in Raqqa and gave them the now infamous ultimatum levelled at Christians all over its self-proclaimed caliphate: flee, convert to Islam, or pay the ‘jizya’ tax for the right to remain in the city.

At the beginning of 2014 there were around 1,500 Christian families living in Raqqa. After ISIS took over, just 50 remained; the rest having chosen to flee.

John’s family, forbidden from selling or renting their property and afraid of losing their business, decided to stay and pay the jizya, which was initially 54,000 Syrian pounds per man. Last year, that figure more than trebled.

Paying the tax meant they were free to live in Raqqa, but life under ISIS militants was brutal.

“I saw a lot of cruelties. Every Friday they execute people. I was there when they beheaded the first man in public. The man suffered, they couldn’t behead him with the first cut. The man suffered so much they finally killed him with a gunshot,” John said.

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