Jihadists organise holiday tours in their Syria, Iraq ‘caliphate’
Known for kidnapping, public stonings, lashings and executions, the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now expanding into tourism, taking jihadists on honeymoon and civilians to visit other parts of its “caliphate”.
Running twice-weekly tours from Syria’s Raqa to Iraq’s Anbar, IS' buses fly the group’s black flag and play jihadist songs throughout the journey.
One of the first clients was Chechen jihadist Abu Abdel Rahman al-Shishani, aged 26, who took his new Syrian wife on honeymoon to Al Anbar in Iraq, according to activist Hadi Salameh, who was using a pseudonym to avoid retribution from IS.
Despite being a married couple on honeymoon, the two weren’t able to sit together, because “women sit in the back, and men at the front.The bus driver plays jihadist songs all through the ride, and the IS black flag flies over the bus.”
IS proclaimed a “caliphate” last month over a land area which straddles Iraq and Syria.
According to a rebel from eastern Syria, the tours started operating immediately afterwards. It firmly controls large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, the Iraq-Syria border, and parts of northern and western Iraq.
The group is responsible for a number of atrocities, including mass kidnappings and killings, stonings and crucifixions.
Salameh said the group’s tour buses “start their journey in Tal Abyad (on Syria’s Turkish border) and end in Iraq’s Anbar.
Tour destinations. Photo: Print screen Google Maps
The activist, who lives in Raqa told AFP in an interview done over the Internet that tour participants can get off where ever they want and that they don't need a passport to cross the border.
“Of course it’s not free. The price varies, depending on how far you go on the bus,” Salameh said.
Syrian rebel Abu Quteiba al-Okaidi, who is from the border province of Deir Ezzor, said most of those who use the buses are foreign jihadists.
“Most of them are foreigners. They communicate in English, and wear the Afghan-style clothing preferred by jihadists,” Okaidi said. .
“There is a translator on the bus, who explains to them where they are going.
The men on the bus are not armed, but vehicles carrying armed escorts accompany the bus,” he added.
IS has its roots in Iraq, but spread into Syria in late spring last year. It gradually took over Raqa city in northern Syria, and transformed it into its bastion.
In June, IS spearheaded a lightning offensive in Iraq that saw large swathes of the north and west of the country fall from Iraqi government hands.