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Squaring Off

The Islamic State (ISIS) terror outfit committed most of their repulsive acts at al-Naim Square in the northern Syrian city of Raqa. The Square was notorious as the ‘Roundabout Of Hell‘ because of the militant Sunni Islamist group’s atrocities. At this Square, the ISIS not only stoned people to death, but also tossed allegedly gay men from rooftops, apart from auctioning off women from the Yazidi minority as slaves. However, the scenario has changed since the IS’ defeat in Syria in 2019, and the revamped Square has become a meeting spot for lovers!

al-Naim Square, Raqa

Sitting on one of the public benches there, 25-year-old Nader al-Hussein said that he was waiting for his date to arrive. He recalled that al-Naim Square witnessed public executions only a few years ago. “Now, this is the best meeting point for lovers, families and friends. Before, we used to avoid passing near it so that we wouldn’t see blood and horror,” stressed al-Hussein.

The roundabout is central and ringed by cafes and restaurants

The Syrian national told the media that the al-Naim (Paradise) traffic circle was a horrible place when Raqa was the de facto capital of ISIS in 2014-17. At that period of time, the local residents dubbed al-Naim Square the Roundabout of Hell, as the jihadists chose the spot to implement Islamic Sharia Law, carrying out processes of flagellation, crucifixion and decapitation on criminals. It was not possible for lovers to meet there, without risking death. “I never dared to meet my girlfriend in person; we used to speak only over the phone, out of fear that we may be stoned as punishment,” insisted al-Hussein.

Raqa

Recently, the Syrian Authorities have revamped the Square, constructing arched columns around the new central fountain. The columns have replaced the metal fence. It may be noted that an IS executioner once impaled the heads he had just severed on spikes of that fence. Public benches have also been placed near elliptical side pools, as multi-coloured laser lights turn the Square into a rare attraction at night.

Manaf, a 24-year-old who refused to reveal his surname, has said that he often visits the Square with friends, as the roundabout is ringed by cafes and restaurants. “al-Naim Square has turned from hell into paradise… even lovers come here now,” he added. Mohammad al-Ali (37), who visited the place with his wife last week, said that he was happy to see his three children playing around one of the empty pools. “We never brought the kids here so that they wouldn’t see decapitated heads hanging. But today, the Square is a space for families and children,” stressed al-Ali.

Watch: Roundabout Of Hell

There is a smaller roundabout, popularly known as Clock-tower Square, a few kilometres away from al-Naim Square. The ISIS used this Square, too, for holding executions. There is a popular market near the Clock-tower Square. Passing the Square on his wheelchair on the way to the grocery shop, Ahmad al-Hamad stated: “This roundabout reminds us of the tragedy we lived through… it reminds us of death and suffering. We used to see the severing of heads and hands, and executions carried out using swords.” Hamad also said that many of his own relatives were beheaded at the Square, adding: “We used to be scared of even passing near it.

Clock-tower Square

The nearby al-Dallah roundabout also witnessed terror activities in the past. Named after a large-scale reproduction of a traditional Arabic coffee pot, al-Dallah roundabout was another punishing ground of ISIS. Dubbed as The Workers’ Square, al-Dallah Square is frequently visited by labourers in the hope of being picked up for jobs. Abdel Majid Abdallah, a 35-year-old daily wager, said that he could never forget displaying prisoners in cages by the ISIS gunmen at the roundabout. “But today, it’s a place where we come to earn a living,” he told the press.

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