Syria: how the Islamic State organization sows terror among truffle pickers
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Armed attacks are increasing against the Bedouins who live in the Badia, the Syrian desert, especially during the truffle harvest season, between February and April. Since its territorial defeat in 2019, the Islamic State organization has taken refuge in this vast territory, and regularly carries out particularly brutal blitzkrieg attacks against civilians. The editorial staff of the France 24 Observers investigated their abuses in a special program, “Syria: death in the desert”.
“They were riding dirt bikes. They came up to us and said, ‘Get down !’ Then they started shooting. They killed everyone except me, they told me to flee”. On April 16, five shepherds were attacked by armed men in the Badia desert in Syria. The attackers left only one survivor, a common technique, to tell of the horror of the attack and deter others from harvesting.
In this vast desert territory which occupies half the surface of Syria, armed attacks are common, and the main victims are the Bedouin tribes who live in these remote areas. They bear the imprint of the Islamic State organization which took refuge in the Badia after its territorial defeat in 2019. Truffles and sheep are means of generating income for the terrorist group, which aims to restore order walking and reclaiming territories.
This violence is exacerbated between the months of February and April, when the Bedouins go out in convoys into the desert to collect truffles. On February 17, 46 members of the Beni Khaled tribe were killed while picking this commodity – highly coveted in Syria – in Al-Sukhnah, near Palmyra. This massacre of Al-Sukhnah was the starting point of this investigation, carried out by Djamel Belayachi and Mahmoud Naffakh of the editorial staff of the Observers.
Behind the scenes of the show
Searching the Facebook and Telegram pages that report on the events in the Badia, we found chilling videos : truffle pickers killed in mine explosions or executed at close range, shepherds killed or kidnapped, daily discoveries of corpses.
We also obtained exclusive footage, filmed by members of paramilitary formations fighting alongside the Syrian regime, the National Defense Forces (NDF) and Liwa al-Quds. These fighters are notably responsible for escorting the local tribes, from which they themselves come, when picking truffles.
We cross-checked these images with testimonies of inhabitants from these tribes. We hid their faces and disguised their voices for their safety. These inhabitants live in the province of Deir Ezzor, controlled by the Syrian regime, and the tribes from which they come are its allies. Not to mention the fact that they may also be subject to reprisals from the Islamic State organization which is rampant in the region.
These contents have been analyzed by Gregory Watersan expert in terrorism, who documents the attacks in the Badia, since the Islamic State organization took refuge there.
Our editorial team would like to thank the inhabitants of La Badia, who helped to produce this program, in particular by sending us images and helping to verify information.