Nearly all video footage of Islamic State-controlled areas has so far been edited and distributed by the militants themselves. Now, a video has emerged which shows something quite different: Filmed secretly by a woman risking her life, this footage gives us insights into everyday life in the Syrian city of Raqqa and takes us beyond the Islamic State's propaganda.
The video was released by French public broadcaster France 2 and translated into English by its affiliate France 24 on Wednesday. It shows a variety of surprising scenes.
For example, one of the scenes in the video shows women in an Internet cafe, speaking in flawless French. The women — who appear to communicate with relatives back in Europe — are among 150 female French supporters living with the Islamic State in northern Syria, according to France 2. The video shows them trying to soothe their families' concerns. "There's no point in crying, or being afraid. Everything you see on TV is fake, I swear to you. It's not true, do you understand?" says one of the veiled French women.
According to Mia Bloom, one of the world’s few researchers specializing in female terrorists, there could be as many as 200 foreign women among the militants, of which only a few cases have been verified. Women are crucial to the recruitment process of the Islamic State. “Their presence is supposed to awake shame among male supporters of the group who see that women — who are considered inferior by the fighters — are more 'courageous' and join the jihad,” Bloom explained to The Washington Post. These women may sometimes be involved in fighting: Another scene appears to show a veiled woman with a rifle on her way to a children's playground.
For women in territory held by the Islamic State, there can clearly be repression, however. "Hey, come here!" a man in a car shouts at the woman filming at one point. "You should behave better in public. ... We can see your face," he says as the woman approaches the car. She consequently apologizes for wearing a niqab (covering her face) which is "a bit transparent."
Raqqa was among the cities targeted by U.S. airstrikes this week, though there is no information on when the video was taken. Given the difficulties in getting information out of the areas held by the Islamic State, the footage is likely to have been filmed before the strikes.