After IS, rotting corpses and empty jail cells in Syria's Raqa
Raqa (Syria) (AFP)
Days ago in Syria's Raqa, die-hard jihadists made their final stand in the city's national hospital. On Wednesday, it stood eerily silent, its entrance inhabited only by swarming flies and two rotting corpses.
Each body lay next to an overturned motorcycle on the side of a thoroughfare leading to the abandoned, bullet-riddled complex, which US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Tuesday was clear of Islamic State group fighters.
The national hospital and the city's football stadium were the last two IS holdouts in Raqa, once the notorious capital of the group's self-styled caliphate, and their recapture marked the end of the jihadists' three-year rule over the city.
Outside the hospital, one of the two charred and decomposing corpses wore an explosives belt.
Scattered on the rubble-littered ground nearby were Korans, boxes of medication and gauze, and a tiny black notebook full of dates and digits for IS administrative bureaus in the city.
One Syrian number was captioned with "Whatsapp number for my wife, Umm Islam the Moroccan".
The SDF said 22 foreign jihadists were killed in the final operation to take the medical facility, which is expected to be thoroughly searched and cleared of mines in the coming days.
At least two blasts -- likely mines left behind by IS -- could be heard across the ravaged city on Wednesday.
- 'They humiliated us' -
At the abandoned national stadium, two bulldozers were working to clear rubble, pressing metal fences, dirt, and rubble into compact mounds of dirt ringing the field.
Underneath its rows of seats, an oval hallway was lined with makeshift cells where civilians accused of breaking the group's ultra-conservative rules were kept for days.
SDF member Ahmad al-Hassan was one of them.
The young man was detained in 2015 after he tried to prevent an IS fighter from arresting his wife for showing her face briefly in the street.
In his first visit back to Raqa on Wednesday, he came back to the now IS-free stadium to see the barren room where he was kept for seven days with 35 other men.
He stood wide-eyed and silent in the darkened corridor, barely able to speak.
"This is where they humiliated us. They humiliated us civilians," he muttered.
In another cell, a handwritten message was scrawled in black marker on the wall: "God save us. God help us."
The months-long drive by the the SDF to capture Raqa was backed by US-led air strikes.
The outer neighbourhoods of the city were taken first and have been heavily damaged.
But closer to the city centre -- where fierce, urban clashes raged for weeks over strategic multi-storey buildings -- the devastation is also striking.
Entire neighbourhoods look like they have been put through the shredder, with homes and shops reduced to nearly indistinguishable, contiguous piles of concrete cinderblocks, pipes, and wires.
SDF fighter Ismail Khalil, also from Raqa, strolled through a ravaged street leading away from Al-Naim roundabout -- also retaken from SDF forces this week.
"They say want to be rebuild Raqa. What rebuilding?" the stocky 35-year-old said, shaking his head.
"It won't be rebuilt in 20 years. This city has been completely destroyed."
© 2017 AFP