The man looked at two photos of his son. In one, 14-year-old Musab stood on a rooftop, blindfolded, his hands tied behind him, pushing back against the three -Islamic State fighters holding his arms. In the second, the teenager was falling. “Those were the last images I ever saw of my son alive,” said Mohammed Hussain Zer, 47, a taxi driver from Raqqa, closing his eyes at the memory of the photographs. “I bought them from a member of the Daesh ¬(Islamic State) I knew as I wanted to understand exactly what had happened.
Without those photos I just couldn’t accept it.” He hung his head. Every day since Musab, his only son, was thrown from a roof, accused by Islamic State of being a homosexual and drug taker, Mr Zer said he had thought of revenge. Yet there was little chance in Raqqa for a middle-aged man with a heart condition to avenge himself against Islamic State. Consumed by grief and rage, Mr Zer escaped from the city with his wife and three daughters. Now he lives in a camp for the displaced in Ain Issa, waiting for the day when Raqqa is finally liberated ,so that he can guide younger men with guns to the homes of those former neighbours he knew had joined Islamic State. “Musab was just 14 years old, and innocent, but they threw him from a roof, saying he was a man that deserved to die,” Mr Zer said. “An innocent boy, killed by the drug dealers, the jail birds and criminals in the Daesh. Musab was taken for questioning from the family home in Raqqa one February evening two years ago after a knock on the door from a patrol of Hisbah, ¬Islamic State’s religious police. “They never said why they wanted him, only that he was needed for a couple of hours to answer questions,” Mr Zer said. “He was my only son, a sensitive, quiet boy who lived at home and had never done anything wrong. He didn’t even smoke. Even now we don’t know the true reason for his arrest.” It was another 24 days before Musab’s parents saw him again. In that period Mr Zer and his wife visited the local Hisbah headquarters in Raqqa every morning to try to collect their son. “Each time the Hisbah told us, ‘Come and collect Musab tomorrow’,” Mr Zer recalled. “Then, without warning, they told us he had been transferred to Tabqa, and that my wife and I could visit him there.” However, from the moment they arrived in the city on the ¬Euphrates River 40km upstream of Raqqa, Mr Zer’s spirits plunged. He was directed to a jail facility controlled by “Nukta 11”, Islamic State’s infamous internal security unit, which can issue death sentences without the permission of a sharia judge. Led to a room in the jail basement, Mr Zer and his wife found their son seated in a chair, a masked guard on each side. The boy was shaking with fear, weeping, and as his father hugged him, he whispered in his ear: “Dad, they are going to kill me, just get me out of here.” The father recalled: “Musab said, ‘They’ll let me go if you pay them some money’.” He held his head in his hands. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, son, it will all be OK.’ I couldn’t tell him I had no money.” There was no mention of what charges Musab was being held under, and when the parents were escorted from the jail 10 minutes later, Mr Zer said he was told by guards he would soon be able to collect Musab. “They said, ‘A day or two more and you can have your son back’.” Yet hours after leaving Musab in Tabqa, a Hisbah official arrived at the family apartment and told Mr Zer his son had been killed ¬according to Islamic law, thrown from the third storey of a building in the Old City part of Tabqa before a crowd, charged with homosexuality and narcotic offences. Mr Zer went to collect his body the following day. In the Tabqa morgue, he discovered Musab’s injuries included head wounds and broken bones consistent with a fall, but also a stab wound to the back and a cut throat. Horrified, he asked doctors what had happened. The doctors fetched the ambulance driver who had been ordered by Islamic State to wait at the foot of the building during the killing to take Musab’s corpse away. For a time the ambulance driver could not bring himself to speak to Mr Zer. When he finally did so, he told him that Musab had struggled so much with the three Islamic State fighters given the job of throwing him from the roof that one had stabbed him to subjugate him. “Then I asked, ‘What of his other wound?’,” Mr Zer said. The driver told him Musab had survived the fall, badly injured. Local and foreign Islamic State fighters debated the boy’s fate over his crumpled body. Eventually they loaded him into the ambulance. Once there, a foreign fighter stepped inside and cut his throat. “They cut my son’s throat in the back of the ambulance,” Mr Zer said. “Now every time I think of him I hear his voice saying ‘Dad, get me out of here’ and remember telling him not to worry, that it would all be OK.”