Fighters of the Islamic State militant group have abducted more than 400 civilians in a major assault on a Syrian city in Deir Ezzor province that also killed over 130 people.
The surprising attack comes despite a Russian air campaign targeting the ultra-extremist group that began last September and more than a year of strikes by a US-led coalition in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said militants of IS, which is also known by its Arabic acronym of Da’ish, killed at least 135 people in the multi-front attack that began on Saturday.
The dead included 85 civilians and 50 regime fighters, according to the monitor.
Another 400 civilians were also kidnapped. “Those abducted, all of whom are Sunnis, include women, children and family members of pro-regime fighters,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He said they had been taken to areas under Da’ish control in the west of Deir Ezzor province and to the border with Raqqa province – the capital- designated of the terrorist group.
At least 42 Da’ish fighters were also killed in the attack, with fighting still ongoing on Sunday. Government forces backed by Russian air strikes are trying to recapture lost ground, bringing in additional troops and military equipment from elsewhere to the battlefront.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said at least 300 civilians, “most of them women, children and elderly people”, had been killed in the “massacre”.
The latest attack puts Da’ish in control of around 60 per cent of Deir Ezzor city, which is the capital of the surrounding province of the same name, an oil-rich region that borders Iraq. The group already controls most of the province, but regime forces have clung onto a part of the city and a neighbouring air base despite repeated attacks.
If confirmed, the death toll in the assault would be one of the highest in a single attack by Da’ish though the group has carried out mass murders before. The fighters have also carried out mass abductions before, seizing more than 200 civilians from central Homs province in August 2014, and at least 220 Assyrian Christians from villages in the northeast of the country months earlier.
Analysts say the group regularly seeks to open new offensives when it is under pressure elsewhere.
More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2016.