KHAZER CAMP, Iraq — Ali Mohammed thought he knew ISIS — the lethal but mostly disciplined thugs who patrolled his neighborhood in eastern Mosul for the past two and half years.
But it wasn’t until a few months ago, shortly before Iraq’s military began its offensive to retake Iraq’s second-largest city, that the militants’ true character was laid bare.
“They just started to create executions. Just for anybody,” said the 47-year-old iron worker, who now lives with his large family in a tent in the massive camp for displaced people in Khazer. “They were afraid of the people — that’s why they were acting that way.”
Amidst the tales of escalating war and harrowing escapes, Ali Mohammed and his fellow exiles from Mosul described a terrorist group that had rapidly morphed from a formidable pseudo-army that controlled the city into a shambolic gang of murderous thugs.
If ISIS’ oppressive rule had been unbearable when the group was at its most powerful, it became even worse under its decline as U.S.-backed Iraqi military forces drew closer, according to former Mosul residents. The jittery militants turned harshly on the civilians they had once tried to recruit.