The Ruins of Raqqa

The Syrian city recovering from the trauma of IS

The Ruins of Raqqa For four long years Islamic State ruled its 'caliphate' from its capital, the city of Raqqa. IS propaganda painted it as paradise. From the outside, there were only glimpses of what life was really like. Now freed from IS control, survivors emerge from the rubble of a city utterly destroyed by US-led bombing, reflecting on the risks they took to defy their occupiers and facing up to a long and difficult recovery.

Once the vibrant heart of Raqqa, Naim or 'Heaven Square', quickly became the 'Square of Hell' under IS. "IS would chop the heads off and stick them all around the square", says truck driver Khaled Sweila. He points to rows of seats, nearby in the street. "Here they had large plasma TVs, so that children would watch punishments, death and executions. That was mandatory", says Sweila. Now there is an eerie calm. Once home to 260,000 people, the US-led airstrikes loosened IS's grip, but also levelled the city.

Australian Jamie Williams joined the fight against IS, horrified by the notorious 'gangster jihadi', Australian Khaled Sharrouf. "I would have loved to have caught one of those guys", says Williams, now sweeping the city for mines. "When [IS] came here, they brought only chaos and destruction with them", says resident Wasna Ahmad El Mahammad, who had to shield her 6 children from new IS neighbours. Now she and her brother pick through the rubble of their former home and business, destroyed in a US-led airstrike. "I wouldn't be able to get to even 1% of the way things were before but I will live and continue building again", says Wasna.

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