Saturday, December 27, 2014

ISIS/ISIL/IS UPDATE: Jihadist Police Impose Islamic-Style Law and Order in Syria


BEIRUT – The mere act of lighting a cigarette can lead to a punishment of 60 lashes in some areas controlled by the Islamic State in Syria, which has set up a security body known as “Hisba” and a strict judicial system to impose their particular interpretation of Sharia law.

Jihadist patrols, composed of four members per vehicle, wander through towns in the province of Deir al-Zur, in northeastern Syria, in search of offenders.

Speaking to Efe, activist Enmar al-Turkmani, originally from Deir al-Zur, explains that IS’s “Hisba” works both as a kind of police force and intelligence service.

This term was formerly used to designate a supervisor of economic and commercial affairs during the early Rashidun Caliphate, 7th Century. Times have changed, and today “Hisba” is used to refer to religious police acting to “enforce the law and prevent vice.”

In Syria, IS has “Hisba” operation centers associated with the group’s two main headquarters, located in al-Bukamal (near the border between Deir al-Zur and Iraq) and al-Raqqa in the northeast, the extremists’ main stronghold.

Every day at the stipulated time for prayer, “Hisba” patrolmen flock to stores and markets to call the faithful to prayer.

“Members of the patrols are usually non-Syrian Arabs, while the ‘secret police’ and informants are Syrian,” says al-Turkmani, who adds that foreigners from other countries typically engage in military tasks.

Within the police force, there are also women tasked with controlling the modesty of other women’s clothing since they are expected to dress according to a strictly Islamic dress code which requires a “niqab” veil covering the entire body except the eyes.

Offenders may face penalties of up to 60 lashes and a 2,500 Syrian lira fine (about $14).

Those who do not attend prayer at the mosque face a penalty of 100 lashes and a fine of 2,000 Syrian lira (about $11), while theft is punishable by amputation of the hands and adultery by death by stoning.

IS is not the only organization with religious police, since its rival, the al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, also has installed a “Hisba” in the territories under its control.

One of such sites is located on the western outskirts of Aleppo in northern Syria where it has created Islamic courts.

In this region lives opposition activist Mohamed Nayar, who noted that “the al-Nusra Front Police monitors the markets and does not allow price increases; but it also compels people to pray and prevents theft.”

For the activist, the Islamic State’s “Hisba” is more effective than its al-Nusra counterpart, especially regarding public order, because “people can leave their shops open to go to prayer and then return without fear of getting robbed,” which does not happen in the regions under the control of the Al-Qaeda branch.

In the western suburbs of Aleppo, there is an al-Nusra Front court which settles disputes according to “Sharia” or Islamic law, “although punishments such as amputation of hands or stoning do not apply,” Al-Nayar told Efe.

There are also street patrols, but they are not as numerous nor frequent as those present in IS territories.

According to the director of the Carnegie Middle East Study Center in Beirut, Lina Khatib, establishment of a police force and judicial system by jihadists such as the IS, reflects a strategy to introduce a legal framework that allows the group to impose its sense of social order and legitimizes its own institutions.

“The IS used the court system to justify its deeds to its own population and combatants,” reflects Khatib.

The analyst compares these radical police forces with the religious police in Islamic regimes such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. “The difference is that in the case of IS, the law is applied inconsistently, and is very arbitrary,” he says.

Herein also lies the main difference with the al-Nusra Front’s courts, which, according to this expert, are more “consistent” as IS courts are completely unpredictable, and sometimes different punishments apply to the identical offense.

The only common denominator is their fondness for using brutal and violent practices that serve as a powerful propaganda tool and as a means of terrorizing the inhabitants of their self-proclaimed caliphate.


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