WASHNGTON – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, considered to be the most ruthless of the Sunni Islamic militant groups fighting in Syria, has ordered a Christian community in Raqqa, Syria, to pay nearly 38 pounds of gold as a “guarantee of their safety.”
The announcement was posted on an ISIS website.
The requirement is part of the implementation of a form of Islamic law, or Shariah, in areas under ISIS control.
Each ounce would cost, at Feb. 26 rates, about $1,330, making the total needed for the required 600-plus ounces of gold more than $800,000.
Raqqa, or ar-Raqqah, is a city in north central Syria with a population of some 300,000 people, of which less than 1 percent, or 3,000, are Christian. That means each Christian then would be required to come up with more than $260 in gold.
Prior to issuing the demand for the gold, sources say the Christians had met with ISIS fighters who offered three choices: Convert to Islam, accept ISIS conditions or reject their control and possibly be killed.
“If they reject, they are subject to being legitimate targets, and nothing will remain between them and ISIS other than the sword,” a separate ISIS statement said.
Prior to ISIS taking over Raqqa, many Christians fled the city.
In addition to the statement, ISIS also issued a video in Arabic.
In the video, ISIS said it would require the Christian community to pay 17 kilograms of gold as “jizya,” or a tax on non-Muslims, who also “must refrain from any public expression of their religion in exchange for a guarantee of their safety,” according to the English-subtitled video.
“The group made this announcement over the Internet,” the video said, adding that the Christians are prohibited from renovating their churches, ringing church bells and praying in public. The video also said ISIS forbade Christians from possessing weapons and selling pork or alcohol to Muslims.
The city, seized by ISIS last year, was the first provincial capital to fall into the hands of the Islamic militants.
According to al-Monitor, a Washington-based website covering news of the Middle East, the ISIS-controlled city has women lining up for as much as seven hours in front of a bakery for bread.
“A masked gunman organized the line. The bakery used to be for both men and women, but ISIS banned the sexes from mixing and assigned two bakeries for women and one for men from among the government bakeries,” the report said.
Women now are required to wear the hijab, or veil, while standing in line.
In other instances, residents are subject to constant intimidation from ISIS fighters who are forcing inhabitants who own more than one home to turn over the keys of their unused homes.
“Would you allow your jihadist brother to live in the street?” the ISIS fighters ask.
The report said that the ISIS fighters in Raqqa are not engaging in any military action against the regime of Syrian President of Bashar al-Assad. Instead, they occupy the Internet cafes in the city and are engaging other jihadist groups whom ISIS believes are not strict enough under Shariah.