'Russia is sending a message' to Syrians under ISIS control -- and it's making more of them join the terrorist group

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty Images

On November 3, Russia carried out a series of heavy air strikes against ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. The strikes, Reuters reports citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, killed 42 people including an estimated 27 civilians.

Although the strikes were seemingly aimed against ISIS, they also damaged a hospital and two bridges that northern and southern Raqqa, Syrian activist Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi from the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently told Business Insider via Skype.

The hospital and the bridges — which Raqqawi said are symbols of the city and a source of local pride — are used both by ISIS and local civilians. The strikes, Raqqawi said, were meant as a threat.

“Russia wants the civilians to suffer so that they can say ‘oh, you want to live with ISIS, well this is what will happen to you,'” Raqqawi told BI. “So they are bombing lots of areas full of civilians. Their last bombings killed more than 28 civilians.

“Russia is sending a message,” he said. “You need to be with the Syrian regime or this is what will happen to you. It is very clear.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that unidentified jets, likely Russian, were responsible for the strikes within Raqqa on November 3. Following these strikes, the ISIS-linked media group Amaq News Agency published a video showing damage to the National Hospital in Raqqa and the destruction of two bridges in the city.

ISIS’ immediate release of footage dipicting the destruction following Russia’s strikes underscores the danger of Russia’s air campaign. Russia has largely avoided using more costly precision-guided bombs and has instead resorted to using the cheaper and significantly less accurate “dumb bombs,” FP reports. Strikes against what locals consider to be civilian targets might instead send more of them into the militant group’s arms.

“ISIS is using this to say to the people, especially the poor or the not well-educated people, ‘we are fighting Russia, the US, the crusaders.’ They are using this to recruit new guys to work and fight for them,” Raqqawi says. “ISIS is happy in some way to have Russia bombing them now. After the Russian airstrikes you had more boys thinking of signing up thinking they want to fight Russia or fight the US.”

This willingness to use non precision-guided bombs reflects Russia’s attitude that even if a strike misses its target, the psychological effects of the destruction could still make the weapon effective.

“The Russians do not care as much about collateral damage [from airstrikes as the US],” Jorge Benitez of the Atlantic Council told FP.

According to Raqqawi, this attitude plays successfully, if unwittingly, into ISIS’ hands.

“The Russians, they bomb everything,” Raqqawi told BI. “They don’t care, civilian not civilian, hospital, not hospital, bridge or not bridge. They don’t care.”

Despite Russia’s attacks against ISIS, the majority of Russian airstrikes have been directed against rebels fighting the Syrian regime in the west of the country. Nearly 80% of Russia’s strikes have not been against ISIS targets.

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