An Islamic State (IS) attack this past weekend resulted in casualties and several hundred civilian kidnappings. On Wednesday, sources say that 270 of the 400 civilians IS captured over the weekend have been released.
The 400 civilians were captured in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour (or Deir Ezzor) during the weekend assault. The city is located in one of Syria’s least accessible provinces, also called Deir al-Zour, and is the site of years of conflict between IS militants and pro-government Syrian forces.
Reports of the initial attack in Deir al-Zour were conflicted. Both the Syrian national news and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group claimed that both abductions and killings had taken place. Syrian rebel activists disputed those claims, saying that no kidnappings took place.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Syria’s national news outlet, announced on Monday that the weekend attack killed 280 people in addition to the 400 civilians who were kidnapped. Earlier reporting by SANA condemned IS for the attack it called a “barbaric and cowardly massacre” that killed 300, but made no mention of kidnappings.
SOHR also reported on the situation. SOHR is maintained by human rights activist Rami Abdulrahman, a Syrian who fled his country in 2000. Mr. Abdulrahman has run the SOHR out of his home in Coventry, England since 2006, coordinating with a network of 200 sources.
Although news agencies like Reuters and CNN are unable to independently verify reports by SANA and SOHR, as the situation unfolds, it has become clear that kidnappings did occur in a pro-government area called Bghailiye. According to SOHR, 85 civilians and 50 pro-government fighters were killed in the attacks, alongside 42 IS militants.
Violence has continued since the kidnappings. SOHR reported that since the attacks this weekend, IS attacks on Deir al-Zour have killed 190 individuals in total. Both Islamic State and pro-government regime forces were affected.
An undercover area man embedded with IS told The New York Times that he had also seen evidence that IS beheaded pro-government forces in Deir al-Zour. The man said, “I saw a couple of Islamic State vehicles carrying bodies from regime areas. They were full of beheaded bodies.”
On Tuesday, Russia hit IS-controlled areas of Deir al-Zour with airstrikes, reportedly killing 60 militants.
Islamic State finally released 270 of the 400 civilians on Wednesday. Most of the kidnapping victims released by IS were women, children, and elderly men. Men between the ages of 14 and 55 were held for questioning by militants. According to SOHR, if IS finds ties between any captive and pro-government forces, that captive will remain in IS custody.
This is not an unprecedented move for Islamic State, which kidnapped 150 Christians in Syria last February. In this instance, like the Deir al-Zour kidnappings, IS militants separated the men from kidnapped women and children. Kurdish militias and other fighters cleared the area.
Another mass kidnapping in August saw about 200 families taken hostage. Some were later released, but around 250 people remained missing.
Washington condemned all violence against civilians. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in relation to the kidnapping, "We demand the immediate and unconditional release of any civilians who were taken captive and of all those held by ISIL.”