While Russia has diverted much of the world’s attention to the war in Syria, the Islamic State’s online propagandists are working to divert attention away from the dangers of living under ISIS with the announcement of two new theme parks opening in Iraq and Syria.
The images of the theme parks– which Yahoo! News describes as being in Fallujah, Iraq, and the Islamic State “capital” of Raqqa, Syria– surfaced following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Pro-Islamic State propagandists on social media allege the parks opened to celebrate the holiday, which corresponds with the end of the hajj, or mandatory pilgrimage, Muslims are to make to Mecca, Saudi Arabia every year.
The photos show smiling children enjoying various rides, as well as landscapes featuring ferris wheels and a play train. The rides fail to disguise the ravages of war; beyond the foreground, dilapidated buildings and bombed-out areas can be seen.
— Terrormonitor.org (@Terror_Monitor) September 28, 2015
— Irish Daily Mirror (@IrishMirror) September 29, 2015
The UK Mirror claims the Fallujah park is called “Ride City,” and boasts teacup rides, flying chairs, and a carousel. The park in Raqqa has not been similarly named in propaganda, though it appears to be comprised of similar rides as the one in Fallujah. The propaganda photos seek to hide the brutal repression of civilian populations under the Islamic State. Photos surfacing from Raqqa during Eid thanks to the work of the non-governmental organization Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently show a morose city full of jihadi surveillance troops and an impoverished population.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) September 26, 2015
ISIS has made similar propaganda disclosures in the past, even announced the opening of theme parks. In July, a theme park allegedly opened in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the largest city under ISIS control in the nation. It would join three other parks in the city: the Mosul Theme Park, Dream City, and Aqua Tarin.
Mosul, which was conquered in July 2014 and cleansed of its non-Sunni Muslim population shortly thereafter, was also prominently featured in an Islamic State “tourism guide” in March. Mosul is marketed as a city with well-stocked restaurants and toy stores, fit for a family vacation. Attracting families to the territories governed by ISIS is a cornerstone of the ideology behind the terrorist organization, as it seeks to prove its leaders can run a viable state, not just kill infidels.
“They’re the first terrorist group that aren’t interested in [just] fighters, they want families to come… They need women and children, they believe they have a state, they now need a future,” Patrick Skinner, the director of special projects at The Soufan Group, a consulting group that advises the government, said in March. “A lot of people are going there just to live in the caliphate.” To that end, the group has also been developing “soft” propaganda aimed at girls and women, highlighting hospitals, clothing stores, and food options for female jihadis who wish to leave their home countries and engage in jihad.