Timeline of events in Syrian city of Raqqa, once IS capital
BEIRUT (AP) — A timeline of events in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, captured by U.S.-backed Syrian forces from the Islamic State group on Tuesday:
March — Protests break out in different parts of Syria demanding democratic reforms following Arab Spring protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain that removed some Arab leaders who had been in power for decades.
November — President Bashar Assad, who at the time was facing the most serious threat to his family’s four-decade rule of Syria, heads to Raqqa where he attends Eid al-Adha prayers at the Al-Nour Mosque, meeting with local tribesmen in an attempt to show confidence and popularity. His visit was the first by a Syrian president to the city in decades.
March — The largest anti-government protests in the city to date are held on the anniversary of the uprising in Syria. The protests are met with a heavy government crackdown that left over a dozen killed, sowing the seeds of the first armed group to emanate from the city. The insurgents retreat to the countryside of Raqqa amid clashes with government forces.
February — Armed groups, including al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, seize control of the two major water dams in the Raqqa province. This strengthens their position, facilitating their attack on the city a month later. Without much fighting, Raqqa becomes the first city to fall to insurgent groups in what has become an armed rebellion against the central government.
January — Raqqa becomes the first city in Syria under full control of IS after the extremist group forces all other insurgents from the city. Its fall to IS was preceded with a campaign of attacks from the countryside, arrests of activists and kidnapping of foreigners, including Italian Priest Father Paolo, who remains missing.
June — IS captures Mosul, Iraqi’s second-largest city, and pushes south as Iraqi military forces crumble, eventually capturing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and reaching the outskirts of Baghdad.
June 29 — The militant group renames itself the Islamic State and declares the establishment of a “caliphate” in territories under its control in Iraq and Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is declared the caliph. The group targets churches and Muslim shrines, and asks Christians to either convert or pay taxes.
Sept. 22 — The U.S.-led coalition begins an aerial campaign against IS in Syria.
August — IS releases a video showing a fighter beheading James Foley on the outskirts of Raqqa. The American journalist was kidnapped in Syria in 2012.
January — 1st Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, 26, a captured Jordanian pilot, is burned alive by an IS fighter in Raqqa. The militant group filmed the burning in a chilling message to its opponents. Al-Kaseasbeh was captured a month earlier when his Jordanian F-16 crashed near Raqqa.
Nov. 5 — The US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launch the first of five phases to expel IS from Raqqa, calling it operation Euphrates Wrath. The operation aims to encircle Raqqa city before retaking it.
May 10 — The strategic Tabqa dam falls to the U.S.-backed SDF, after weeks of fighting around it and following a major airlift operation that brought SDF fighters and their U.S. advisers to the area. The fall of the dam facilitated the subsequent attack on the heavily fortified city of Raqqa, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.
June 6 — SDF fighters begin an attack on the city from three sides under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.
June 13 — IS chief spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajer releases an audio, calling on the group’s fighters to defend their positions in Iraq and Syria.
June 16 — Russia announces it may have killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an airstrike targeting a meeting of IS leaders just outside Raqqa, but U.S. officials say there is no definitive proof of his death.
Sept. 20 — SDF fighters say the battle to fully control Raqqa is in its final stages, with nearly 85 percent of the city under their control.
Oct. 15 — SDF fighters launch final operation to retake the last IS-held pocket of the city after some 275 militants and their family members surrender.
Oct. 16 — Raqqa’s infamous public square, where IS used to perform beheadings, is captured by the SDF.
Oct. 17 — SDF takes full control of the city of Raqqa after capturing its main hospital and local stadium, the last remaining IS holdouts, in a critical blow to the Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate.