Nonstate actors, including a number of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as Da’esh and ANF, controlled portions of the country’s territory, and continued to be responsible for killings, torture, kidnappings, and arrests of members of religious groups they suspected of opposing their rule. Da’esh publicized executions of individuals it accused of violating its interpretation of Islamic law. Religious offenses Da’esh deemed punishable by death included blasphemy, apostasy, and cursing God. Da’esh also punished individuals with lashing or imprisonment for lesser religious offenses, such as insulting the Prophet Muhammad or failing to comply with standards of grooming and dress. ANF and some allied rebel groups targeted Druze and Shia minorities in the northern part of the country, claiming responsibility for numerous bombings, including suicide attacks, which the ANF continued to claim were reactions to the government’s “massacres of Sunnis.”
According to the media reports, Da’esh in March shot, burned, or beheaded at least 30 non-Sunnis, including women and children, at a village in the suburbs of Hama. In March Da’esh also published a video of militants beheading eight Shia in Hama.
According to the BBC, in June ANF fighters in Idlib province killed at least 20 Druze villagers, whom a foreign ANF commander reportedly called “infidels” before ordering their killing.
On December 30, Da’esh suicide bombers bombed three restaurants owned and frequented by Assyrian Christians in the town of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, killing at least 16, including three who were not Assyrian or Christian, and injuring approximately 45. Known Da’esh public affairs websites and Twitter accounts reported the attack.
According to an isolated NGO report, in October Da’esh militants entered a village near Aleppo and told 11 Christian workers there, including a 12-year-old boy, to renounce Christ or leave. When they refused, the militants tortured and beat them before crucifying them.
In June media reported Da’esh crucified two boys under the age of 18 for eating during Ramadan and publicly displayed their bodies. Also in June Da’esh reportedly executed two women and their husbands for sorcery.
After rebels expelled government authorities from Idlib city in March, they surrounded the nearby majority Shia villages of Fu’a and Kafraya, and targeted both with shelling and suicide bombings. The rebels referred to the villagers in Fu’a and Kafraya as “rawafid,” a derogatory term used to refer to Shia Muslims.
According to the New York Times, following the expulsion of the government authorities from Idlib city, reports circulated ANF fighters had killed two Christians for working in a liquor store.
In Aleppo Governorate, several rebel groups, including ANF and Ahrar al-Sham, attacked the Shia towns of Nubl and Zahra, which other rebels had been besieging, and portrayed violence against the villages in sectarian terms.
Opposition groups reportedly continued to target religious minorities in kidnappings.
Media reported on February 23 Da’esh overran the Khabour River region in Hasekah Governorate forcing thousands of Assyrian Christians and others to flee and kidnapping over 250 Assyrian Christians. Da’esh released 19 hostages a week later and periodically released small numbers of others throughout the year as a result of negotiations with members of the Assyrian community. Da’esh executed three hostages in September and released a video of the execution 10 days later. At year’s end more than 100 remained hostage.
Yezidis, the UN, the Iraqi government, and others continued to report Da’esh held thousands of Yezidi women and girls in Raqqa. Da’esh kidnapped these women and girls in Iraq and then trafficked them to Syria to be sold or distributed to Da’esh fighters as “spoils of war” because of their religious beliefs. Escaped captives continued to report sexual assaults by Da’esh members, which Da’esh documented in its own videos.
In March ANF kidnapped Father Ibrahim Farah and held him for 20 days. In May Da’esh kidnapped Father Jacques Mourad from his monastery near Homs; he escaped in October. In July ANF fighters kidnapped Father Dhiya Aziz, the parish priest at the Yacoubieh monastery in Jisr al-Shougur area in Idleb countryside, before releasing him 10 days later. Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi, kidnapped in April 2013, remained unaccounted for at year’s end. The condition of Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped by Da’esh in July 2013 in Raqqa, remained unknown.
Terrorist and other armed groups continued to convene ad hoc courts in areas under their control, where each group reportedly implemented its own interpretation of Islamic law. According to opposition armed groups and media reports, this included the authorization of public executions and torture of minorities accused of working with the government, particularly Alawites. Armed groups, including those linked to ANF, continued to establish sharia courts in Aleppo and Idlib Governorates and elsewhere, replacing government courts as well as courts organized by other opposition groups.
In February ANF released a statement reporting it was forcing Druze villagers in northern Idlib Governorate to convert to Islam, destroying Druze holy sites such as tombs, forcing women to dress in accordance with ANF’s interpretation of Islamic law, and teaching a Salafi-jihadi interpretation of Islam to Druze children.
Activists, media, and Da’esh reported Da’esh continued to force Christians in areas under its control to pay a protection tax, convert to Islam, or be killed. After Da’esh took over the mostly Christian town of Qarytain in Homs Governorate in August it released a video in which the group said some residents had converted to Islam and it had imposed a tax on those who had not. Da’esh also reportedly desecrated Christian holy sites in the town.
Da’esh introduced new curricula based on its interpretation of Islam in schools throughout territory under its control. According to The Daily Telegraph, the group banned several subjects it considered contrary to its ideology, including music, art, and aspects of history the group deemed nationalist. In October and November Da’esh reportedly unveiled new textbooks for use in its schools whose content justified Da’esh’s declaration of a so-called caliphate and described other forms of governance as un-Islamic. The textbooks also justified Da’esh’s practices including excommunication and other punishments for apostasy, heresy, and other religious crimes, according to multiple media reports and the group’s own reporting. Da’esh publicized efforts to “re-educate” teachers who had previously taught in government schools. The group reportedly opened a number of “Cubs of the Caliphate” youth training camps throughout its areas of control, releasing several videos documenting the training.
ANF and affiliated groups also used schools, youth training camps, and other means to teach children their Salafi-jihadi philosophy in areas under their control. In “proselytization sessions,” a term used by ANF, the group invited children to participate in games whose content was based on al-Qaida’s religious beliefs. In other areas in the north, the Salafi-jihadi NGO Callers to Jihad Center engaged in similar activities.
According to Da’esh reporting and other sources, in areas under its control, Da’esh police forces, known as Hisbah, continued to administer summary punishments for violations of Da’esh’s morality code. Men and women continued to face public beatings for smoking, possessing alcohol, listening to music, having tattoos, conducting business during prayer times, not attending Friday prayers, and not fasting during Ramadan. The Da’esh police also continued to punish individuals for accompanying “improperly dressed” female relatives. Da’esh’s al-Khanssaa all-female police force continued to enforce Da’esh-prescribed moral regulations, sometimes violently, on women.
In a number of recorded speeches Da’esh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Da’esh spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called on Muslims throughout the Middle East to rise up against Jews, Crusaders, and their “apostate” agents elsewhere in the region.
Da’esh continued its campaign to attack and destroy minority religious sites as well as ancient heritage sites in areas it held. For example, in January Da’esh forced villagers to remove a cross from the church in Tel Hormizd, threatening to bomb the church if they did not. In April Da’esh destroyed the Virgin Mary Church in Tel Nasri. In August Da’esh destroyed the 1,500-year-old Saint Elian Monastery in the Homs countryside and desecrated a number of churches in the nearby town of Qaryatain. Between May and December Da’esh destroyed large parts of UNESCO World Heritage Site Palmyra, calling the ancient city’s archaeological treasures “pagan ruins.” On May 23, Da’esh destroyed the Lion of Lat and other statues. Sometime on or before August 23, Da’esh fighters destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin. Several days later, the group destroyed the Temple of Bel. On September 4, sources reported Da’esh had destroyed a number of significant tower tombs. On October 5, the group destroyed a number of other buildings at the site.