HARI SREENIVASAN: This week, ISIS fighters have launched attacks across the Middle East. Just yesterday, ISIS claimed responsibility for exploding a car bomb outside the Italian Consulate in Cairo, killing one person.
Also, a Syrian human rights group is reporting that militants launched two new offensives in Northern Syria Thursday, detonating large bombs in the border town of Kobani.
All of this violence comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. While ISIS is killing civilians, it's also helping civilians at the same time.
Associated Press reporter Bassem Mroue joins me now with more of this mix of brutality and charity, joins me via Skype from Beirut.
So, one of the things that we're all aware of during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is the emphasis on charity. How is ISIS doing this?
BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press: Well, ISIS is trying to win the hearts of people who live under its control.
There are millions of people who live in areas that are under control ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And during the holy month of Ramadan, they take care of the poor by either giving them money they collect from the rich or by giving them food baskets that include rice, sugar, cooking oil.
This has been the case since they declared an Islamic caliphate last year. But, still, although they do this, they have carried out some of their most brutal acts during Ramadan. They released a video showing them killing 16 people whom they accused of being spies. And, basically, they put some of them in a cage, and then they lowered them into a swimming pool until they drowned.
They set explosives around — like white explosives around the neck of some people, alleging they are spies, and they blew their heads off. So, they are doing this. They try to scare the people. And also they try to tell them that, like, we are your protectors, we protect you from the Iraqi and Syrian government forces. We protect you from other militants. This has been the case.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, in this time, there's also the practice of fasting. And you're reporting that they are even enforcing that people observe the fast.
BASSEM MROUE: That's correct. I mean, during Ramadan observance, Muslims abstain from food and water from sunrise until sunset. But if you are caught — if someone is caught in areas under the Islamic State rule eating during the day, they're severely punished.
And the punishment could be from being put in a cage inside a public place such as a market for several hours day or even for more than a day, even though, like, it's very clear in Islam that people who are old or who are sick can — cannot fast if they want.
But that's not what ISIS, what the Islamic State group is doing. They're punishing anyone, even older people, sick people. They just detain anyone whom they find eating.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how has this changed the atmosphere? I mean, Ramadan is usually a fairly festive time. People break their fast by joining with other families and friends in the evenings.
BASSEM MROUE: That's correct. In Iraq or Syria, before the Islamic State group took over wide areas of these two countries, people usually, like, they have a big meal, a fast-breaking meal after sunset. And then, like around 10:00, 11:00 p.m., they all go out. They take walks. They sit in coffee shops, they drink coffee, they smoke water pipe, they play backgammon.
Smoking is totally prohibited and also games. It's surprising. Like, you go to any Muslim country in the Middle East, and restaurants are usually filled with people, families, children breaking their meal. This is prohibited. So, the atmosphere is, in a way, depressing and miserable.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is all of this an attempt to show the people inside this region that they have the ability to control or govern?
BASSEM MROUE: That's what they're trying to say. And they're trying to show that are — I mean, they implement a very sick interpretation of Islam. And, for them, they claim this is the only right interpretation, that's the only right path, and all what the others are doing is wrong. If you're against that, they simply kill — kill whoever says that. I mean, they don't tolerate any kind of criticism or opposition.
For them, they are the right, and all the others are wrong.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Associated Press reporter Bassem Mroue joining us via Skype from Beirut, thanks very much.