Jihadist fighters march in Raqqa
Jihadist fighters march in Raqqa. Photo by AP
Text size
related tags

A jihadist group in Syria has demanded that Christians in the city of Raqqa pay a levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection, according to a statement posted online on Wednesday.

The directive by The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria is the latest evidence of the group’s ambition to establish a state in Syria founded on radical Islamist principles.

A group of 20 Christian leaders chose to accept the new set of rules, ISIS said.

Raqqa, seized by ISIS last year, was the first provincial capital to be completely in the hands of rebels.

The directive from ISIS, which cites the Islamic concept of "dhimma," requires Christians in the city to pay tax of around half an ounce (14g) of pure gold in exchange for their safety.

It says Christians must not make renovations to churches, display crosses or other religious symbols outside churches, ring church bells or pray in public.  Christians must not carry arms, and must follow other rules imposed by ISIS on their daily lives.

The directive also bans Christians from owning weapons and from selling pork or wine to Muslims or drinking wine in public.

The statement said the group had met Christian representatives and offered them three choices - they could convert to Islam, accept ISIS' conditions, or reject their control and risk being killed.

"If they reject, they are subject to being legitimate targets, and nothing will remain between them and ISIS other than the sword," the statement said.

Abu Qatada, the radical preacher deported from Britain who is on trial for terrorism charges in Jordan, opposed the imposition of the tax.

"They can't promise full protection to Christians because they are in a state of war and not in full control of the areas they are in," he said. "Therefore, the conditions for them to pay for a Muslim state is not fulfilled and any agreement based on that is null and void."

The 52-year-old cleric, who is described as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe with ties to the late Osama bin Laden, made the comments to reporters during a break in his trial on Thursday.

The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to early Islam in the seventh century. In the territory that makes up Syria today, it was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.

The statement, dated Saturday, was posted on Twitter by a self-described ISIS supporter. The text matched a statement distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which condemned it.