File - Once a vibrant, mixed city considered a bastion of support for Assad, Raqqa under ISIS control is now a shell of its former self.
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In rare interviews with the Associated Press, residents and activists in Raqqa describe a city where fear prevails. Music has been banned, Christians have to pay an Islamic tax for protection, people are executed in the main square and face-veiled women and pistol-wielding foreigners in Afghan-style outfits patrol the streets enforcing Shariah restrictions. Raqqa, on the banks of the Euphrates River, is now the only city in Syria fully under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Al-Qaeda breakaway group that is considered the most ferocious of the militant factions that have latched onto the revolt against President Bashar Assad's rule. Black Islamic banners flutter on street corners and atop buildings – including churches – as the extremists put their strict Islamist stamp on the city. In early January, ISIS fighters expelled rival rebel factions from Raqqa, including militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Their numbers swelled as ISIS fighters and loyalists pulled out of some areas it controlled further west in Syria and moved to Raqqa in the face of assaults and threats from rival rebels. The residents said most Christians, who made up about 10 percent of Raqqa's population, have long fled. One resident said around 20 families remain.
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