Report says hundreds executed by ISIS in Syria
BEIRUT – The Islamic State (ISIS) fighters had executed nearly 700 prisoners in nearly two months in eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a shocking December 19 report that coincided with US President Donald Trump’s claim of victory over the terrorist group.
The news of executions indicated that ISIS, which lost nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year, was still causing terror and misfortune in the country as it desperately attempts to regain a foothold.
The war monitoring group said the prisoners were among 1,350 civilians and fighters that ISIS had been holding in territory near the Iraqi border.
ISIS now controls a shrinking strip of land east of Syria’s Euphrates River around the town of Hajin, which US-backed forces entered this month.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG militia, has battled Islamic State there for several months with the help of US air power and special forces.
SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani said earlier in December that at least 5,000 ISIS fighters remain holed up in the enclave, including many foreigners who appear ready to fight to the death.
Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate has crumbled after different offensives across Iraq and Syria, though its fighters still operate in the desert border region and mount attacks.
ISIS has been held responsible for multiple atrocities during its rule of terror, including mass executions and decapitations.
In recent months, both Syria and Iraq have discovered a number of mass graves in areas previously occupied by militants.
The report of prisoner killings comes nearly one week after seven mass graves containing hundreds of unidentified bodies were unearthed near the former ISIS stronghold of Albu Kamal in eastern Syria.
Earlier in November, a UN report revealed that more than 200 mass graves containing the remains of thousands of people were discovered in Iraq in areas formerly under the control of jihadists. The victims included women, children, the elderly and disabled, as well as members of Iraq’s armed forces and police, the UN report said.
The news of prisoner killings in Syria coincided with a tweet from Trump declaring that US mission to defeat ISIS in Syria had been accomplished. Defeating the militant Islamic group in the region, the US president said, was “my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
Earlier on the same day, news reports said the US military was planning a complete and sudden withdrawal from Syria in a reversal of US policy, as the declining threat of ISIS has been supplanted by increasing tensions with other world powers in the region.
Shortly after Trump’s Twitter declaration, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in a statement that “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” Sanders said. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign.”
Sanders added that the U.S. and its allies “will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”
The move appears to contradict the existing stance on the conflict in Syria advocated by senior Trump administration officials. They called for a longer-term presence in the country and even to expand the mission beyond defeating ISIS.
National security advisor John Bolton reportedly said in September that the US was “not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”