Inside Raqqa, ISIS militants' fast-shrinking terror capital

Inside Raqqa City, ISIS' capital

Last Updated Jun 26, 2017 7:30 AM EDT

AYN ISSA, Syria -- Just three weeks ago, walking the streets of Raqqa would have been suicidal for an American TV crew.

Now, ISIS is losing its grip -- besieged by U.S. coalition airstrikes and America's allies on the ground, a rag-tag army known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams and her team are the first U.S. television crew to report from Raqqa City, the terror group's de-facto capital which, during more than three years under ISIS control, became a killing field.

American journalists were beheaded nearby, other people were crucified, or thrown from buildings by the extremists.

Exodus of refugees as U.S.-backed forces close in on Raqqa

Even now, the extremists are deadly. As part of the CBS News team moved forward with the SDF forces, they were spotted by an ISIS sniper. 

Cameraman Abdi Cadani captured the sound of bullets whizzing as he and producer Omar Abdulkader ran for cover. They made it to safety, but they were pinned down by at least two snipers.

"We are hoping either to get an armored vehicle to take us out from here, or probably when it gets a little bit darker," Abdulkader says into the camera.

Then came word that a suspected ISIS suicide car bomber was nearby -- just 400 yards away, the SDF forces said. They'd lost five soldiers to one of the car bombs the day before.

CBS News cameraman Abdi Cadani climbs out of an armored vehicle in Raqqa, Syria after he and other members of the CBS News team and members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces became pinned down by an ISIS sniper, June 25, 2017. CBS

After a tense wait, word came in via radio that it was a false alarm, and minutes later a homemade armor-plated car arrived, ferrying our stranded team to safety.

It was a close call with ISIS, even as the group's so-called Islamic State crumbles.

The U.S. military tells CBS News there are still an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters inside Raqqa, but they are close to being entirely surrounded.