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The Islamic State’s Roundabout of Happiness in Raqqa

Anne Speckhard

The Islamic State’s Roundabout of Happiness in Raqqais the 67th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brandseries. This video features 22-year-old Abu Valid, an Syrian former ISIS soldier. Abu Valid was interviewed in December 2015 in southern Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla. The video was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and ICSVE staff. 

Abu Valid is a Syrian who had joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA)to fight Assad’s forces, but was captured by ISIS and forced under threat of death to serve them. Abu Valid was assigned to the ISIS hisbah, or police force. Abu Valid begins this counter narrative video by telling about the taxation that ISIS imposed on the people. He then moves to describing how ISIS carried out many executions in Raqqa, in an area called the Roundabout of Happiness, often hanging severed heads on poles with the bodies dumped beneath them. “Depending on where the wind is blowing, you could be sure that the people in that direction would get scabies,” Abu Valid explains.  

The children of Raqqa, according to Abu Valid, became so accustomed to the beheaded corpses that they would play with the severed heads and the people of Raqqa would walk right over the dead bodies. “It is now called the Roundabout of Hell, because ISIS frequently executed people there,” Abu Valid states. He further adds, “I saw a lot of people executed there. A human being would naturally get scared and be terrified from the sight of destruction and killing. Some people deserved to die and some others didn’t. Most of them were charged and executed wrongfully despite being innocent.”

Abu Valid also discusses the ISIS media machine. He describes  how they broadcasted their propaganda videos to the residents of Syria on large TV screens hung up around the city to educate the people about their rules and punishments, as well as entice youth into serving them. “There was terror in that region,” Abu Valid states, referring to the executions, dead bodies and constant broadcasting of ISIS’ atrocities. “So, it is normal that a person who flees Raqqa, in particular, will leave it with a million diseases and troubles,” Abu Valid states. 

Indeed, of the over 100 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners ICSVE researchers have interviewed to date, many now suffer with severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress—both from the hideous acts they took part in and what they witnessed while living inside ISIS.

Abu Valid fled ISIS and lived in Southern Turkey at the time we interviewed him. “[ISIS]is not righteous,” he states. “It doesn’t have anything to do with Islam.’   

Discussion Questions:

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe that Abu Valid is telling the truth about his experiences inside ISIS?

Do you think the way ISIS executed people and left their bodies hanging in the streets is Islamic?

Provided it is true that ISIS was ruling by brutality and terror, could one consider their model of reign as an example of a true Islamic State?

Do you believe that someone who observed what Abu Valid is speaking about would suffer emotional issues or posttraumatic stress?

Islamic Scriptures Related to this Video:

Punishments in Islamic law have their conditions and hindrances. One of the conditions is that the community is aware of their duties and rights. A government run by shariah law cannot impose punishments unless it also provides rights, for this is the crucial difference that governance run by Islamic and divine decree has over the totalitarian one. According to Islamic principles, when there are no rights granted, then can also be no punishments.

Moreover, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Prevent punishments by suspicions” which means that the ruler (who is the only one who has the ability to execute punishments), has to seek for forgiveness and amnesty from offenders whenever possible. This is so unlike ISIS and the groups who do just the opposite—seeking out the guilty, even if they have privately repented, accusing them publically, forcing them to confess and punishing them brutally and often arbitrarily with no real justice system operating.

When we saw in the Prophet’s (PBUH) reaction to the woman who committed adultery—who he according to the hadiths recording this story, sent away repeatedly to encourage her to repent in privacy and without incurring a state-governed punishment, we saw extreme mercy and lack of accusation. Also, when a man named Ma’iz came to the Prophet (PBUH) and asked him to cleanse him of his sin of adultery, the Prophet told him three times “Woe to you! to go back and repent” until he came the fourth time and asked to be cleansed. Then the Prophet (PBUH) asked his companions, “Is he mad?” They answered, no but said, “He might have drunk brew”, and a man smelled his mouth and said that he did not drink brew. Then the Prophet (PBUH) asked him, “Have you committed adultery?” The man answered, “Yes.” At that point Prophet (PBUH) had to carry out his responsibility and told his companions to stone him according to the obligation decreed as the punishment by shariah law.  However, when the companions took the first stones the man ran away. The companions followed him, and brought him back and continued the process until he died. Afterward, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “If you would have left him alone, for he might have repented and Allah might have forgiven him,” showing again how Prophet (PBUH) wished for the man to repent and deal with his sin privately between himself and Allah (Sahih Muslim, the book of punishments, Hadith No. 1695). 

The scholars who later studied this second case, said that the Prophet (PBUH) took the man’s escape as a sign to withdraw his confession, which is the man’s right to do. In both cases we see the Prophet (PBUH) going to great lengths to allow sinners to hide their sins and repent on their own, avoiding punishment from the state. In these two cases we see that the Prophet (PBUH) did not, like ISIS does, jump to accusations, nor was he in a hurry to punish.  Instead he preferred clemency and allowing individuals to repent and put themselves in right standing with Allah without the state interfering at all. In fact, in the woman’s case he repeatedly refused her confession sending her way to take care of her pregnancy and nursing child instead. ISIS, and groups like them, on the other hand, jump to accuse individuals and punishes them with extreme brutality instilling fear among all, instead of showing by example the vast love and forgiving nature of Allah. 

Furthermore, putting headless corpses in public places, as ISIS does, is regarded as terrorizing people and it is against Islam, for the Prophet (PBUH) said: “It is forbidden for a Muslim to terrorize another Muslim” and he said: “Do not terrorize a Muslim, for terrorizing a Muslim is a great unjust”.

Transcript of The Islamic State’s Roundabout of Happiness in Raqqavideo:

The Islamic State’s Roundabout of Happiness in Raqqa

I was in the city of Raqqa. 

They sent us to surround the garage. 

An emir came.

The emir’s name is Abdulrahman from Iraq.   

 The whole region feared him.

He talked nicely but behaved badly, like torturing people. He was tough [on people].


Former ISIS Soldier

22-year-old Syrian

He believes that Allah only guided [ISIS but no others]. 

He thinks that he is one of Allah’s creation who are entitled to be [a servant of Allah].

He used to demean people and cuss at women.

There was another [foreign fighter] with him. They were together all the time.

They came to the garage with cars. It was evening. There were three to four cars.

They imposed taxes on the shops, [took money] from the Muslim workers.

[They claimed] these people’s alms don’t count.

Abu Valid saw firsthand the brutality of ISIS.

The things that we saw —the punishments!  

We saw beheadings at the Roundabout of Happiness [in Raqqa].

It is now called the Roundabout of Hell, because ISIS frequently executed people there.

I saw a lot of people executed there. A human would naturally get scared and be terrified

from the sight of destruction and killing.

Some people deserved to die and some others didn’t.

Most of them were charged and executed wrongfully despite being innocent.

 In Raqqa, ISIS made its own media publications.

They had screens on the walls of the city, and they broadcast their publications.

People gathered to watch. This was at the Roundabout of Happiness.

The roundabout had the heads of four to five people hung on poles.

Their bodies were dropped below.

The women were completely covered in black.

People walked over the corpses and children were playing with the heads.

I didn’t have the courage to touch the heads, but the [children] laughed at us saying that they are toys.

There was terror in that region.The publications were showing these heads.

So it was normal that a person who leaves Raqqa, in particular,

will leave it with a million diseases and troubles.

The corpses were left on the roundabout for four to five days.

Depending on where the wind is blowing, 

you could be sure that the people in that direction would get scabies.    

ISIS is not righteous. 

It doesn’t have anything to do with Islam.

The Truth Behind the Islamic State

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About the authors:

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=101) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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