Islamic State militants are holding more than 30 women and children hostage in south-western Syria, a monitor and local media say as quoted by BBC. They are thought to have been seized during a wave of deadly IS attacks in Suweida province last week.
The abductions were reported by the Suwayda24 website and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, following a series of suicide bombings that targeted an area dominated by the Druze ethnic minority on 25 July. More than 200 people were killed. The Druze are the third-largest religious minority in Syria and are considered to be heretics by IS jihadists. The SOHR said that at least 36 women and children had been seized by IS. Several women have since managed to escape, and two have died, the reports say.
The Syrian government controls most of the region but IS militants hold a small amount of territory there. Pro-government forces recently launched a campaign to retake remaining rebel- and jihadist-held areas in the south. IS has lost urban strongholds in Syria but still holds parts of the sprawling expanse of desert know as the Badiya, including northeastern areas in Sweida and territory by the Iraqi border. The jihadists also control a pocket in Daraa province, directly west of Sweida.
According to CBS News, the suspected IS kidnappers have purportedly made demands for the women and children’s release, but the families have not said what they’re demanding. The jihadists are demanding the release by the Syrian government “of detained IS-linked people, whose numbers are now being negotiated”, said Radwan, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. The Sunni Muslim extremist group also wants a halt to a Syrian regime offensive on jihadist positions, he said. Religious leaders from the Druze community have since stepped in, Radwan and another local source with knowledge of the talks told AFP.
“As of Sunday, the hostages were still being held in the Badiya. Negotiations are happening between Daesh and Druze sheikhs,” said the source, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The IS jihadists abducted the women and children from al-Shobki village, according to the Syrian Observatory, which said four women had since managed to escape while another two had died. That left 14 women and 16 children in IS captivity, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. Another 17 men were unaccounted for, but it was unclear if they were also kidnapped.
IS fighters have previously attacked Syrian minorities, including the Yazidi genocide that left at least 10,000 people killed in August 2014 and thousands more kidnapped, Newsweek adds. The Independent reported that victims died from starvation, while others were executed by being burned alive, beheaded or shot. In 2015, ISIS forces kidnapped more than 220 Assyrian Christians in the northeastern part of Syria and then again abducted 270 Christians from central Syria in 2016.
Under the group’s ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam, minorities are considered “infidels” but ISIS also politicises them as regime loyalists. More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011.
Wednesday’s violence was the worst Sweida had seen since the war began, and one of ISIS’ deadliest attacks across the country. IS attackers detonated suicide bombs in Sweida city and villages to the north and east, while others shot and stabbed residents. A total of 139 civilians were among more than 220 people killed, according to the Observatory. The remaining were pro-government fighters or residents who had picked up arms to defend their homes.