Islamic State accused of killing 400 in Palmyra

Deaths included women and children who ‘did not follow orders’, state media says

This picture released today by a militant website which had been verified shows Syrian government soldiers captured by Islamic State militants in the Palmyra area  of Syria. Photograph: militant website via AP

This picture released today by a militant website which had been verified shows Syrian government soldiers captured by Islamic State militants in the Palmyra area of Syria. Photograph: militant website via AP

 

Islamic State (IS) fighters have killed at least 400 people in Palmyra since capturing the ancient Syrian city last week, Syrian state media said today.

It was not immediately possible to verify the account, but it was consistent with reports by activists that the Islamist fighters had carried out extra-judicial executions since capturing the city from government troops.

The Sunni Muslim militants seized the city of 50,000 people, the site of some of the world’s most extensive and best-preserved ancient Roman ruins, on Wednesday, days after also capturing the city of Ramadi in neighbouring Iraq.

The two near-simultaneous victories were IS’s biggest successes since a US-led coalition began an air war against its fighters last year, and have forced an examination of whether the strategy is working.

The militants have a history of carrying out mass killings in towns and cities they capture, and of destroying ancient monuments which they consider evidence of paganism.

Mutilated

“The terrorists have killed more than 400 people including women and children . . . and mutilated their bodies, under the pretext that they co-operated with the government and did not follow orders,” Syria’s state news agency said, citing residents inside the city.

Islamic State supporters have posted videos on the internet which they say show fighters going room to room in government buildings, searching for government troops and pulling down pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and his father.

Activists have said on social media that hundreds of bodies, believed to be government loyalists, were in the streets.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the country with a network of sources on the ground, says that some people were beheaded in the town since it fell but has not given an estimate for the toll among civilians. It says at least 300 soldiers were killed in the days of fighting before the city was captured.

“A bigger number of troops have disappeared and it is not clear where they are,” Rami Abdulrahman from the Observatory said.

Civil war

Islamic State is the most powerful of countless mainly Sunni Muslim groups fighting against the government of President Assad, a member of the Shia-derived Alawite sect. The four-year-old civil war has killed a quarter of a million people and driven nearly eight million from their homes.

Western countries and their Arab allies are bombing Islamic State but supporting other anti-Assad forces elsewhere in the country, where government troops have lost territory in recent months.

Dozens of Syrian troops evacuated a strategically located position inside a hospital in Idlib province in the northwest last week, where they had held out since April under siege.

Syrian state television said its air force had killed 300 insurgents in strikes that broke the siege of the Jisr al-Shughour hospital. The al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, an insurgent group involved in the offensive in the area, said the government forces had fled. – (Reuters)