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Exclusive - Raqqa Radio Station Sheds Light on Reintegration of Ex-ISIS Locals

Exclusive - Raqqa Radio Station Sheds Light on Reintegration of Ex-ISIS Locals

Monday, 22 October, 2018 - 12:15
Amal FM studios, Raqqa, Syria, (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Raqqa (Syria) - Kamal Sheikho
Losing Raqqa city in northern Syria as a major stronghold served an unmatched blow to the ISIS terror group. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces managed to free the city and establish a local civil council after winning a series of fierce battles in 2017.

Most ISIS fighters who were not involved in the killing or uprooting of civilians were granted general amnesty by SDF forces after local Arab tribes mediated for their release. No detailed figures on ISIS members who were released, or those who remain in captivity, were issued.

Reintegrating ex-ISIS fighters remains a sensitive, if not taboo, topic in society.

A post-ISIS Raqqa radio station, Amal FM, made its first attempt at the heated subject on its early morning 9:00-12:30 broadcast.

Radio host Julnar Saeed opened doors wide for locals willing to join in the conversation and share relevant experiences.

Unhesitating, listeners phoned the station to join in the conversation and voice their opinions, some supporting rehabilitation and integration efforts, and others appealing for a specialized court to rule on the suspects’ cases.

Sobhi, a Raqqa local, called into the morning program saying: “I reject the idea of integrating ISIS elements into society. They were tools used to expand the group’s power and prolong its reign for three years.”

Another listener, Mahmoud, shared Sobhi’s views with a Facebook post condemning “anyone who bared arms and joined ISIS”.

But a remarkable number of citizens spoke in favor of granting former ISIS members who are acquitted from assault charges a second chance.

“These sensitive topics met numerous reactions from the station’s audience, and our mission is to shed light on all aspects affecting people,” Saeed told Asharq Al-Awsat from the modest studios at Amal FM.

A local who lost her brother to ISIS sniper fire, Riham, overcame personal barriers and defended the idea of a second chance.

“Many were forced to join ISIS ranks,” said Riham.

“I have stayed in Raqqa throughout the time ISIS was in power, and have personally witnessed how the lack of job opportunities and resources drove many to work with them,” she explained.

Commenting on Riham’s remarks, Saeed stressed the need for considering local laws, justice systems and social contracts when it comes to empowering rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

“Everyone who did not commit a crime or abuse power must be given a second chance,” Saeed said.

Into the aired public debate, Saeed cleared up that only Syrian ex-members of ISIS are covered by the discussion after some viewers voiced their concerns that it was also speaking on behalf of foreign ISIS fighters.

Amal FM launched in early 2017 under the slogan “The Voice of All Syrians,” offering a wide range of social programs, specialized newscasts and live news reporting.

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