Civilians fleeing war face death at fake Isil checkpoints
Islamic State jihadists in Raqqa are dressing up as US-backed forces and setting up fake checkpoints to catch civilians trying to escape the "capital" of the group's caliphate, residents say.
The militants are posing as liberating Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, and capturing anyone that approaches. "They took several families today, we do not know if they have killed them yet," Tim Ramadan, an anti-Isil activist in the north Syrian city, said yesterday.
"They set up checkpoints in the al-Murour neighbourhood in the south of Raqqa and were waving Kurdish flags," said Mr Ramadan, who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity. "The families thought they had reached safety but then realised they had been fooled."
Isil is using as human shields the remaining civilians - estimated to number somewhere between 7,000 and 20,000 - and threatening anyone who tries to leave with execution.
"The other day Isil dumped four corpses in one of the streets with a sign that said: 'They were killed because they tried to escape'. People are too scared to leave their homes," Mr Ramadan said.
There are believed to be 700 to 1,000 militants left in Raqqa, holed up in the centre. The SDF has encircled them and captured around 60pc of the city.
Mr Ramadan described the dire situation for those trapped. Effectively besieged, nothing is getting in to areas still under Isil control and residents have had to resort to boiling grass and weeds for food.
Water has been cut off for two months and residents are relying on old wells. He said he has been unable to leave his street for several weeks as Isil has booby-trapped the routes out and the US-led coalition has been bombarding his neighbourhood with air strikes.
As many as 700 civilians have been killed since the SDF-led offensive began in June, according to AirWars, a UK-based monitoring group.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Iraq, troops are battling the last hold out of Isil fighters outside the city of Tel Afar, northwest of Mosul. Fighters have entrenched themselves, said one Iraqi officer, who claimed the fighting there is "multiple times worse" than in Mosul's old city.
Colonel Kareem al-Lami described breaching the militants' first line of defence in al-'Ayadiya as like opening "the gates of hell". Sniper shots, mortars, heavy machine guns, and anti-tank rockets were fired from every single house, he said.
Raqqa has proven much more difficult for Isil to defend than Mosul. SDF officials are hopeful it will be liberated within the coming two months. (© Daily Telegraph, London)