Deir Ezzor, Syria (CNN)A massive dust cloud engulfed the Russian army chopper as we touched down on the landing zone. The fine sand made it impossible to see as we walked away from the helicopter.
When it departed and the dust cleared, we could see several dozen Syrian government soldiers and Russian special forces, their faces covered by masks, holding their guns.
This was our welcome in Deir Ezzor, a former ISIS stronghold where the terror group besieged two Syrian government enclaves in the city’s west for more than three years until its ouster about two weeks ago.
The Russian army drove the CNN crew and about 20 other journalists into town in an armored vehicle. Gun and mortar fire could be heard — ISIS still holds parts of the city — but in the center life was clearly coming back.
Some people were out shopping for basic goods. While relieved the ISIS siege had been lifted, they were still too afraid to give out their names, saying the terror group remained close.
“ISIS spread fear, cutting off heads, murdering people,” one man said. “It was not a question of faith, there was no faith. There is no Islam in these deeds. Never was Islam part of ISIS’ ideology.”