A block of wood for beheadings and a torture chamber - what ISIS left behind in a town it used to control


Tal Abyad Raqqa Syria


The entrance to Suluk town is seen after Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters took control of the area from Islamic State fighters, near the town of Tal Abyad in the northern Raqqa countryside, Syria June 14, 2015.

Ground forces have had some success in liberating cities in Iraq and Syria from ISIS terrorists, but the towns aren't always able to get back to normal life once the militants leave and new authorities move in.


ISIS (also known as the Islamic State and ISIL) has been seizing territory in Iraq and Syria since declaring an Islamic "caliphate" in 2014. The militants govern the cities they seize according to a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

A US-led coalition partnered with local forces recently drove the terror group out of Tal Abyad, a town on the border of Turkey and Syria. The Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, who helped liberate Tal Abyad with the help of US airstrikes, now govern the town.

But ISIS took the electricity generators, water pumps, and hospital equipment that the group had used to keep the town running, Liz Sly reports for The Washington Post.

Sly visited the town recently and found that while ISIS took some of that essential equipment when the group was forced out, it left behind sinister reminders of the terrorists' rule - including cages, torture instruments, and a block of wood the jihadis used to behead victims.


Of the 75,000 people who previously lived in Tal Abyad, 40,000 remain, according to The Post.



"Some of its shops are permanently shuttered, their owners having fled," Sly wrote. "The Islamic State's distinctive black and white iconography remains, at abandoned checkpoints on the outskirts of town, in graffiti scrawled on the walls and on the railings of the central square where executions were held, a lingering reminder of the presence of the militants, still not so very far away."

While the militants controlled the town, they also reportedly turned the church into a "security center" used for torture and military classes, according to The Post.

Sly documented her trip to Tal Abyad on her Instagram account, showing the remnants of ISIS's reign of terror in the town. Here's a look at what Sly saw:


Smoking is illegal under Islamic State rule. The militants reportedly held those caught smoking in this cage.

This is the cage where ISIS put people who were caught smoking. Tal Abyad. #Syria

A photo posted by Liz Sly (@lizslywp) on

ISIS beheads people as a public spectacle. It intimidates those who live in the 'caliphate' and advertises what happens to those who don't abide by its rules.

This wood block was used for beheadings.

This is the church that was reportedly turned into a "security center" that was used for torture, among other things.

ISIS militants shot up the outside of the church.

The shot-up facade of the Church of the Cross in Tal Abyad, used as a security center by ISIS #Syria

A photo posted by Liz Sly (@lizslywp) on

ISIS militants reportedly torched the church at some point. One page of this Bible survived.

The shot-up facade of the Church of the Cross in Tal Abyad, used as a security center by ISIS #Syria

A photo posted by Liz Sly (@lizslywp) on

Even though ISIS no longer controls Tal Abyad, residents still fear the terrorists. ISIS still controls nearby Raqqa, the group's de-facto capital.

This graffiti painted on an ISIS store reportedly reads "the whore state failed."

ISIS also operates "schools" where it indoctrinates children and trains new recruits. The white board in this ISIS classroom in Tal Abyad has ISIS slogans and an illustration of militants downing a helicopter drawn on it.

From the ISIS classroom in Tal Abyad: how to shoot down a helicopter #Syria #ISIS

A photo posted by Liz Sly (@lizslywp) on

Another whiteboard reportedly has instructions on how to build a bomb.

How to build a bomb. Another ISIS classroom found in Tal Abyad, #Syria

A photo posted by Liz Sly (@lizslywp) on

Some towns near Tal Abyad have been destroyed in the fight against ISIS.

Tal Abyad isn't the only town that is still struggling to recover from ISIS rule.

The Iraqi city of Tikrit suffered a similar fate - since being retaken by security forces and militias in March, the country's government has worked to rebuild the city back into what it once was.

And in the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi victory, residents charged that Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias were burning down Sunni-owned homes and businesses in Tikrit, according to The Wall Street Journal. ISIS is a Sunni terror group, and some say the fight against it has further fueled sectarianism in the region.

People in other parts of Iraq have reportedly struggled to return to their hometowns that have been recently liberated. Many residents of Tikrit were eventually allowed back into the city. But in the central Iraqi town of Yathrib, for example, Sunnis trying to return have been denied reentry and accused of sympathizing with ISIS, according to The Journal.