Kurdish fighters capture Islamic State’s notorious execution ground in Syria, scene of beheadings and crucifixions
Bodies and severed heads, labelled with supposed crimes, were displayed by militants in Raqqa’s ‘Paradise Square’
Raqqa’s infamous public square where Islamic State militants used to perform beheadings and crucifixions has been captured by the US-backed Kurdish-led force fighting the extremist group in Syria.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said clashes at Al-Naim (Paradise) Square have raged since Sunday as IS put up a fight. Nine IS fighters were killed and 12 surrendered, he said.
Paradise Square became synonymous with the group’s reign of terror. After declaring their self-styled caliphate in Raqqa, the militants used the central city square to carry out public beheadings and executions, forcing the residents to watch after summoning them with loudspeakers.
Bodies and severed heads would linger there for days, mounted on posts. Residents described how the bodies of those executed would be labelled, each with his or her perceived crime, for the public to see.
The square, previously known for its famous ice cream shop, was quickly renamed from Paradise to Hell (Jahim) Square.
A senior Kurdish commander in the city called its capture symbolic.
“The group showed off its might in this square. Now it is broken and is chased out of the heart of its alleged capital,” the commander said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
SDF fighters launched an operation to retake the last IS-held pocket of the city after some 275 militants and their family members surrendered over the weekend.
On Tuesday a Reuters witness said fighting appeared to be almost at an end in the city with only sporadic bursts of gunfire.
Militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanted slogans from their vehicles and raised a flag inside Raqqa stadium.
An SDF spokesman said the alliance would capture the last Islamic State areas in the city within hours. The stadium and a hospital, the SDF said they had captured earlier on Tuesday, were the jihadists’ last bases.
Activists said those who surrendered were taken to an SDF-run prison in the nearby town of Tabqa, where they are being interrogated before facing trial. Most of the remaining IS fighters in the city were believed to be foreigners.
The commander said the SDF was searching for wanted IS foreign fighters sought by European and other countries but that none had surrendered or were detained so far.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had previously reported that among the fighters remaining in Raqqa is a militant who planned attacks in France that killed and wounded dozens of people, saying he was a French or Belgian citizen of North African origin.
“We distributed pictures, so they can check if they (foreign fighters) are among the killed or wounded. We are looking into it. But we have no verification so far,” the commander said.
Bali said IS used two car bombs to push back advancing troops, but they were detonated before they reached their destination. He said at least three SDF fighters were killed.
“We believe that it will be all over within a few days,” Bali said.
“Those (Islamic State) fighters who are still inside will fight to the death.”