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Published On: Thu, Jan 26th, 2017

Iraq: Mosul survivor Hala Jaber confirms a Islamic State finding a cell phone could mean death

At the end of each day Farah religiously deleted all text messages, names and numbers from her phone. She then wrapped her SIM card with cling film and squeezed it into the seal of her bathroom window sill, writes Hala Jaber.

“I always thought that was the best place to hide it, in case they (ISIL) came to search the house. I felt I would have enough time to first run to the toilet and flush it down,” she said.

She protected another spare SIM-card like a valuable piece of jewelry. It was wrapped in cling film and stuffed inside a meat kibbeh (patty), which she kept in the freezer.

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Farah’s need for secrecy was not because she was transmitting secrets or sending coded messages to the enemy.

She was simply trying to survive after an ISIL decree banned everyone in Mosul from using or even carrying a mobile phone.

Mahfooz, a 14-year-old vegetable seller, is the breadwinner of a family of six from East Mosul. His father is disabled and his mother was recently killed by a sniper bullet. He has not been to school in two years. Photo: Hala Jaber / IOM

“Anyone caught with a mobile telephone in their home or car was automatically executed,” Farah said.

But for Farah, who was trapped inside Mosul under ISIL, and Khaled, her husband of 20 years, who was on the outside, radio silence between them was not an option, regardless of the risk.

The couple designed a method to stay in touch without being detected. So for nearly a year they secretly communicated through the internet using Tango, a social media app.

The process was fraught with danger. ISIL had prohibited the use of all mobile phones. Anyone caught with one would automatically be charged with conspiring with the Iraqi government and face execution.

A friend of the family was executed with four shots to the head for possession of a phone.

But the daily calls were vital for Khaled to know his wife was safe, and for Farah to maintain a semblance of normality in Mosul, where nothing was normal any more.

Through these secret phone calls, Farah and Khaled shared the events of their lives, discussed their fears, speculated about the future, and longed for the day when Mosul would be freed from ISIL and the family would be reunited.

Khaled escaped Mosul two and a half year years ago, following threats from ISIL. But his family, including his wife, were trapped in the city. Farah had stayed behind to care for her sick mother, who died eight months later.

When Farah’s mother died in 2015, ISIL was in full control of the city and had imposed strict religious rules, with zero tolerance for dissent, frequently executing people for the slightest disobedience.

“After my mother passed away, it became nearly impossible for me to leave,” Farah explained.

Instead she stayed put at home, avoiding being caught on the streets without her husband, and keeping their home safe from ISIL looters.

“Many people decided to stay put simply to protect their properties and livelihoods from ISIL,” she said.

Many parents also removed children from school to prevent them learning the ISIL-imposed curriculum and to avoid them from being recruited by ISIL and sent on suicide missions.

Now most Mosul children have been without schooling for the past two and a half years.

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