WhatsApp messages from Raqqa:

Mama, save me

Editor’s Note: The names of the people featured in this report have been changed to protect their identities.

Sitting in her modest apartment near Amsterdam, Wafa turns on her phone and opens WhatsApp. She’s filled with a mixture of hope and fear.

Covering her face with her hijab, Wafa, 40, weeps as she waits for two blue check marks confirming Maha has received her message — the only sign that her 23-year-old daughter is still alive.

Maha and her nearly 2-year-old son Odai are trapped in Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria and one of the most isolated places on Earth. When she can find a rare internet connection away from watchful eyes, Maha talks to her mother via WhatsApp voice message.

“When I don’t hear anything, when there is no news, it’s like something inside me is dying,” Wafa says.

When Wafa arrived in the Netherlands after fleeing Raqqa in 2014, she pleaded with her daughter to follow. Instead, Maha stayed behind with her husband and son, promising to join her mother later. But she wouldn’t get the chance. ISIS’ religious police beheaded Maha’s husband after finding a message to a Syrian regime soldier on his phone.

Now, as US-led coalition forces encircle the ISIS stronghold, an escape seems even more hazardous and Maha’s voice messages to her mother have become increasingly desperate. With so much emotion in their voices some sections are inaudible.

The following conversation has been adapted from voice messages exchanged between Maha and Wafa on WhatsApp since January. Wafa shared these messages with CNN.

  • JANUARY 4, 2017
  • Maha (daughter) Mom, Odai got infected from drinking poisoned water, we managed to get to the emergency room here, the doctor told me it is extremely important for him to drink clean water but it is hard to find it here. Mom, I'm desperate, I don't know what to do. I swear, I don't know.
  • JANUARY 5, 2017
  • Wafa (mother) Sweetie, try to find him clean water and give it to him. Sweetie, let me know how you're doing. Sufficient for us is God and he is the best disposer of affairs [an Islamic expression meaning God is in control].
  • JANUARY 10, 2017
  • Maha Mom, I’m exhausted and the situation is horrible, I can’t bear this life anymore, my son is sick and there’s no medicine or clean water or anything for my child. It was really hard to find some milk yesterday.
  • Wafa I swear sweetie, there’s no one I haven’t spoken to so that you come. I’m speaking to the media, I’m speaking to the doctor, I’m speaking to the entire world.
  • More than three weeks pass before Maha is able to reply ...
  • February 2, 2017
  • Maha Hi mom, please let me know how you are doing, I hope you are well, it was very hard to get online, the place where I found a cyberspace [an internet café] is far away from where we’re staying. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back here, it might get closed.
  • Wafa Sweetie, try to leave, try to leave, try to go to another village, awaiting a solution to get you to Turkey.
  • February 5, 2017
  • Maha Mom, why don’t you respond? Please respond. Please answer me. Tell me how you have been.
  • February 6, 2017
  • Wafa Sweetie, I have responded, I'm with the doctor, I don't know when you're gonna be able to get online again. Why wouldn’t I respond to you my soul, my life. Your situation got me here, I spend my time in hospitals, I drink sleeping pills and I have had several nervous breakdowns.
  • More than a month passes …
  • March 10, 2017
  • Maha Mom, you promised me to get me out of this hell. Mom, I have nightmares, I dream that they come after me to kill me. After I sent you a voice note, I delete everything because I got so scared. I see them [ISIS fighters] everywhere now. I’m so exhausted because of this life.
  • Wafa Sweetie, I swear, there's no one I haven't spoken to, to doctors, to lawyers, to journalists, there's no one in this world I haven't spoken to about you and Odai. I will do the impossible to get you out.
  • March 15, 2017
  • Maha Mom, I need to come back, I can’t stay here, I’m afraid they’ll arrest me. I’m scared they will hurt me if they find out that I sent you voice notes and details about how unsafe this place is. They [fighters] consider it a crime to talk to people outside Raqqa. I will try to get online again.
  • Wafa Sweetie, where are you? Answer me. Sweetie, answer me. Let me hear your voice.
  • March 31, 2017
  • Maha Mom, there is nothing here, we don’t have food, nor water or electricity, nothing. They [fighters] have everything they need and have a great life. Sufficient for us is God and he is the best disposer of affairs.
  • Wafa I know who they are, the sons of fouls [expression meaning sons of b**ches] who hold their heads high. I despise Daesh [an alternative name for ISIS] and those who got Daesh to us.
  • Nearly two months pass before Wafa hears from her daughter again. When she does, Maha has moved to another area of Raqqa ...
  • May 23, 2017
  • Maha Mom, answer me, mom, why don’t you respond? We moved to another place today, I don’t know when I will be able to get online again, Daesh fighters are all over the place, I’m afraid I won’t be able to come back to get online again. I am scared, and Odai is exhausted.
  • Wafa Sweetie, if you think this is a more dangerous area where you are now, please don't leave. I would not be able to bear not to hear your voice anymore.
  • May 26, 2017
  • Maha Have a blessed Ramadan mom, I wish you the best (she sighs). Mom, I’m distressed. The village we moved to now is really isolated and deserted and everything is expensive here, food, vegetables, fruit, meat, chicken, I can’t afford milk for Odai. Sanitary pads are so expensive. It is really hard, so hard to get milk for Odai.
  • Wafa Blessed Ramadan, sweetie, I wish you would be with me right now, with your honour and dignity. May God reunite us again. You and Odai, may God reunite me with you again. It is my dream. It is my dream. I can’t lose more than now.
  • May 31, 2017
  • Maha Today we saw someone from the religious enforcement [ISIS’ religious police force] putting his suicide belt on, he was bleeding so much, it happened in the village where we are now, later he left and they took him, we were scared to death.
  • June 1, 2017
  • Maha We are exhausted. I’m afraid I’m gonna commit suicide. My son is sick – I am sick myself, and defeated (she starts to cry). From dawn until I go to bed I feel this way.
  • June 2, 2017
  • Maha Hi mum, how are you…get me out of this horrible situation; we are in a very horrible stage right now. I am tired; my son is exhausted (she starts to cry). Get me out of here I beg you. I can’t talk much. You don’t have any idea how bad our situation is. Get me out please. And may God reward you. If you can’t get me out I am afraid I may end my life. I will beg you until my last breath, please get me out.
  • Wafa Oh sweetie, I know you have been cut off from everything. I swear I know. I swear, but I don't have anything in my hands (cries). I swear, I’m dying here, I'm tired of repeating the same things.
  • June 16, 2017
  • Maha Mama, save me from this situation. Save me. Save me. We’re living in hell, in hell. Save me from this. My son is next to me dying. Save me, save me. If you loved me you would save me. If you loved me you would save me. Don’t leave me in this situation. (Inaudible) Save me, save me.
  • Wafa Oh sweetie, there’s no one I haven’t spoken to. I’m talking to the media, I’m talking to the doctor, and with the IND immigration (immigration and naturalization service in the Netherlands). Please be patient. Sweetie, I swear I’m going to get them to rescue you.
  • June 18, 2017
  • Maha Mama, try, please try everything. Try everything. We have nothing here. We have no food or drink. The situation is (inaudible). Mama, the basic necessities of life aren’t here. Try everything. Try. Rescue me and Odai. If you love me, beg everyone—the journalists, the doctors. Try them all.
  • Maha My son is dehydrated, this water is causing him diarrhea. There is no nutrition, try, my son is dying in front of my eyes. Try, my faith is in you, try. Please try. (Inaudible) You know what I am doing is a big risk, but I took the risk and sent it.
  • June 20, 2017
  • Wafa I curse on them sweetie, they live like princes, they can afford anything. We’re the only ones who are suffering. We are shattered. We are dead.
  • Maha is still sending her mother voice messages from Raqqa when she can. The city remains under ISIS control.