ISIS is Gone, But Its Barbarity Still Haunts Palmyra

Palmyra, Syria.

ISIS (Daesh) is gone from Palmyra, except for some possible sleeper cells. Their approximately 1,500 fighters who occupied Palmyra for nearly ten months reportedly split roughly into thirds on March 27, 2016 after being driven out by Syrian army assaults and Russian airstrikes. This according the General X [anonymity requested] head of Syrian Military Intelligence for the area. He and his accommodating staff briefed this observer on many aspects of the Daesh culture and how they operate militarily, sometimes affected by tensions within their ranks stemming from rampant drug use and problems among the foreign fighters who continue to arrive to Syria. The three ISIS units from Palmyra headed to Aleppo, Deir Zor, and Raqqa where they are now fighting.

When ISIS over-ran Palmyra in May of last year, they set up key offices, including their Sharia Court, and housed about half their leadership at the National Museum which still contained plenty of antiquities. They correctly calculated that the Syrian military would not bomb the Palmyra Museum, which for decades had received the most foreign tourists apart from the National Museum in Damascus. Consequently, ISIS’s leadership was relatively safe during their eight month occupation.

Approximately 75 meters to the west of the main gate of the National Museum is where ISIS carried out the sentences of their court, with dispatch sometimes within minutes and without any appeals.

As the photos below show, the structure now leaning against a wall across the street from where it had stood (the army moved it two weeks ago) was used for two purposes: one “judicial” and the other pecuniary. On the right side of the metal cage shown below, Daesh beheaded ‘criminals’ and put their severed heads on the metal dish above with holes punched in it for blood drainage.

On the left side of the gage is where Daesh sold slave women. They employed auctions selling the women to the highest bidder. I was told from one eyewitness that the price was around $200 for each female. Daesh demanded payment in US dollars. One 12-year-old girl was sold, according to an eyewitness, for $100 dollars. Another ‘‘slave’’ woman, reportedly a particularly attractive blue-eyed occidental looking blonde, sold for the high price of $400, although the vendor had wanted $ 500 for her. Since the average salary for ISIS fighters serving in Palmyra was close to $400 monthly, or roughly four times what many government, army and others earn here, many fighters, particularly foreign fighters I was told, bought women and took them to the Guest House among the ruins or to the nearby Zenobia Hotel or a couple of others where many fighters lived. Others took them up to the Roman Citadel above Palmyra. For more security, many Daesh fighters preferred to live at the Citadel on the hill. The same preference that led rebels to take over the medieval fortress of Crac des Chevaliers, 200 km to the west with its impenetrable ten-foot thick walls. Daesh drove the Syrian army from the Palmyra citadel and now they are replaced by Russians troops who live there.


Wael al-Hafian of the Homs Directorate of Antiquities next to beheading cage. Photo: Franklin Lamb.


ISIS decapitated head tray. Photo: Franklin Lamb.

Above the beheading chamber shown in the previous photo is this tray with holes drilled in it for blood drainage. Severed heads were thrown into this dish. Sometimes when terrified slave woman were caged next to it they were spattered with blood, eyewitnesses reported.

The Daesh ‘‘flag’’ with its logo is above the beheading cage. One still sees the ISIS logo around Palmyra, but presumably most have been removed or desecrated, as have Daesh slogans written on columns among the ruins and buildings in town.

This observer was shocked to learn more information about a beautiful young woman, maybe 18-years of age with a sunburned baby in her arms but with no luggage or even a purse, whom he noticed walking along the edge of the 160 km Homs-Palmyra highway. We stopped our car to offer help. The temperature is very hot in this area, which is deep inthe desert. In July and August temperatures rise to 120+ degrees Fahrenheit and the other day when we picked up the woman, it was more than one hundred degrees F. The young lady was very weak and thirsty and had no ID. Long story made short, as this observer was to learn later that night, she had been bought nearly a year ago from the above-shown cage by a Daesh fighter. As often happens when Daesh retreats from an area they do not want the burden of taking slave women with them, so these are sold again or simply abandoned. Sometimes they are killed. I was also told that the surviving slave women in Palmyra, as elsewhere, become “untouchables” without much of a future in this culture. A similar mentality one imagines possessed by many jihadists and plenty of other men in this region who insist on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) before they agree with the father on a marriage contract with his daughter. FGM is present in Iraq and Yemen but is nearly unheard of in Syria. The concept was introduced by foreign fighters from 29 African and Middle East countries according to UNICEF.

The young lady walking East to Palmyra in the scorching sun was hoping to find a place to stay. Perhaps she was unaware that nothing much is left of the city of Palmyra and that nearly 45 percent of the neighborhoods in what are called the “Modern City” near the ancient site, have been destroyed. Whole blocks of apartment buildings have collapsed walls and others are totally demolished

Approximately 1000 of the original population of 170,000 are back. A few return every day now. Most had fled, while approximately 15,000 remained when Daesh occupied the town. When the army arrived on March 27, 2016, ISIS ordered all the residents to leave and they took them into the desert without any shelter. It is still not known for sure what became of them. Some relatives continue to seek information about any survivors.

We left the young lady at an army checkpoint on arrival to Palmyra. Hopefully someone will help her and her baby. But what will become of the other bought and discarded women, many with children? There are currently no UN or NGOs around these parts. However, this observer was privy to a conversation between a Russian and a Syrian doctor during the grand opening of the first and only ‘‘supermarket’’ in Palmyra – a small one-room grocery store, but very much welcomed. The doctors explained to me that they received a green light from the military to re-open the central Palmyra Hospital, if they can find funding. This observer, upon returning to Damascus contacted a friend at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) aware that several of their medical facilities in Syria have been damaged. Knowing something about MSF’s humanitarianism I think there is a chance they may consider helping the two doctors re-open Palmyra’s hospital.

An army source described to me the treasure trove of court documents they found when the Palmyra Museum was abandoned by Daesh in haste. While not reported in the news, more than one Syrian pilot ended up in the ISIS court. Pilots, like the Jordanian pilot burnt alive in a cage last year, are always sentenced to being burned alive. Daesh Emirs interpret the Koran to be based on an eye for and eye etc. Since pilots drop bombs and fire air-to-ground rockets, which bring fire on its victims, the Koran (according to Daesh’s perverted reasoning) requires the pilots be burned alive.

Being briefed on how the Sharia Court operates and its use of the Koran’s claimed requirement of two eyewitnesses to a crime before the accused can be found guilty, ISIS court records including written judgments make plain that the ‘‘two witnesses” requirement to convict is a sham. Their trials offer zero due process. Every accused person who appeared before the Daesh court in Palmyra was found guilty. When sentence was passed for a capital offence, of which there were many, the convict was often immediately marched outside the main gate the National Museum and led maybe fifty yards to the left to the beheading cage.

Suffice it to note that the Daesh living quarters are full of the detritus they left behind, revealing much information about their life style. This observer visited their quarters in many rooms of the Government Guest House near the Temple of Baal and also at the Zenobia Hotel.

Daesh fighters seem to eat the same fare this observer often does, if he does not want to bother to cook. Plenty of tins of spicy canned sardines were scattered here and there, as well as those easy-to-cook packs of noodles and packages of processed cheese wedges. Large pots, however, suggest that more elaborate meals were also prepared.

Muslims tend to be very clean people. But not this bunch! Filthy toilets and trash everywhere. Piles of dirty clothes, sheets and blankets that appear and smell like they have never been washed. Lots of Captagon pills lying around (known among locals as “Daesh milk and honey”) and tubes of something labeled Hiler Herbal Cream were seen by this observer in many rooms. One local speculated that Daesh concocted a Captagon ointment paste to apply to specific body parts employed while assaulting “slave” women.

Daesh (ISIS) is gone from Palmyra, hopefully for good. But the area is still haunted. One imagines a long period of healing, cathartic reconstruction, restoration and healing will be required by its returning residents before this ancient town will feel cleansed of Daesh butchery, desecrations and filth.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. He is reachable c/o