Editor’s Note: CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh and Ghazi Balkiz are the only Western TV journalists in Jarablus, Syria. This is what they discovered.
Jarablus, on the Syrian-Turkish border, was a key recruitment site for ISIS
ISIS tried to lure children in Jarablus to become soldiers for the "Cubs of the Caliphate"
Just one week ago, ISIS controlled and tormented this city, which had turned into a gateway for aspiring terrorists.
Now, people walk the streets freely and in a seemingly elated mood.
We entered Jarablus, on the border with Turkey, under Turkish government supervision. Then we were handed over to Free Syrian Army rebels from different factions who escorted us into the city.
Inside Jarablus, you can still see all the murals, graffiti and pageantry presumably left behind by ISIS.
Before Turkish and Sunni Arab Syrian rebels cleared ISIS from the city last week, Jarablus was a key stopping point for ISIS recruits and a supply route for replenishing the group.
One of the most important buildings in Jarablus was the recruitment center. If you crossed from Turkey into Syria – a route often used by those who want to join ISIS – the recruitment center was where you would have your first formal encounter with the terror group.
Now, people inside that building show us the basement that was used as a prison. They recalled entering the building for the first time and finding torn-up ledgers containing records of people there.
The building is now in the hands of the Free Syrian Army. We didn’t see any Turkish military while we were there, but we did see a lot of relatively modern weapons that are now in the possession of the FSA, including ammunition and heavy machine guns mounted on the back of pickup trucks.
They were most likely NATO-originated and not high-end materials, but definitely not stuff that was bought on the black market.
There were a lot of people and FSA wandering the streets in a relatively upbeat mood. This gives the impression that life has gone back to normal, although it has to be taken in the context of our visit being a Turkish-supervised trip.
Yet conflict in the area isn’t over. Some members of the FSA we spoke to said they would also fight the Kurds going forward as well as ISIS.
One mid-level FSA commander said the group plans to move toward the ISIS stronghold of Al-Bab as well as the town of Manbij, which is still thought to be under the control of a Kurdish-loyal militia. The United States has demanded the Kurds withdraw from Manbij.
But for now, the FSA is enjoying the relative calm in Jarablus.
The town’s central square is now clean but still has an ISIS propaganda picture on it.
That’s where we met a young boy, 13-year-old Hamzah Ismael, wearing a camouflage uniform and cap.
He told us how ISIS would bring people to the square to get beheaded, their heads later stuck on spikes in the square. He showed us which spikes ISIS displayed the heads on.
Hamzah also recalled how ISIS tried to lure kids to join its “Cubs of the Caliphate” child-soldier wing by offering him and other boys money. But he refused. Instead, Hazmah said, he tries to help the rebels by offering them water and supplies.
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CNN’s Holly Yan and Nick Thompson contributed to this report.