Fighters from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) have slain by summary execution at least 50 Syrian soldiers captured in an ambush in northeastern Syria. They were following an emerging pattern of wholesale slaughter adopted by Islamist militants across the region.
The Syrian deaths were announced in the IS Syrian stronghold of Raqqa on Friday July 25, the day after fighters of the self-declared caliphate launched an assault on the Syrian Army’s 17th Division. Bashar Assad’s side lost 69 men in the battle, including 50 soldiers; the rebels counted 28 dead.
What made this battle different was its outcome: Most of the 69 pro-Assad followers who did not die in battle were beheaded. A Twitter account linked to the Islamists ran pictures of beheaded corpses and the heads of five soldiers it said were killed in Raqqa and belonged to the 17th Division.
Direct clashes between IS and the Syrian Army have increased in frequency, and the military has responded by stepping up aerial bombardments of IS positions.
Last week, IS fighters captured a gas field in central Syria, killing 270 soldiers and guards in one of the deadliest clashes between the group and government forces.
The two incidents were major setbacks for Assad, his army and his Hizballah allies. Not only did they lose a major oilfield and witness an entire division crumbling and in flight, but their equipment, including tanks and missiles, fell into the hands of IS and gave them the firepower for further victories in Syria and Iraq.
IS-affiliated militants show off killings at end of Ramadan
In Iraq, Islamist fighters affiliated with IS celebrated Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan with the release of a slickly produced video that sickeningly depicted prisoners rounded up and executed, suicide bombers boasting before blowing up buildings, and Iraqis gunned down in drive-by shootings.
In one of the most appalling passages, terrified prisoners are piled into the backs of trucks, where they hold each other and huddle in fear before they are driven off to their deaths.
The 36-minute film then cuts to dozens of prisoners lying face down on the ground, hands bound behind their backs, waiting to be executed.
None of the men looks older than 40. One wears an Arsenal football shirt, clearly visible with midfielder Mesut Ozil’s name and number on the back.
Most of the victims awaiting their fate appear to be Iraqi army soldiers.
Their jeans, which the doomed men had hastily donned to try and hide their Iraqi military uniforms, were pulled down to reveal their khaki fatigues.
In other scenes, the footage showed hundreds of men sitting on the ground with their hands bound, waiting to be shot.
YouTube quickly removed the shameful video, although it later re-emerged on social media.
Gruesome killings have become IS trademark
The same sort of outrage was repeated this week in Benghazi. The Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia overran a Libyan army base and was reported to have slaughtered dozens of soldiers by decapitation or slit throats.
This same group was held responsible for the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi and the murder of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Although the US, France and Britain closed and evacuated their embassies – the British left a few intelligence personnel in Tripoli – an American official in Washington remarked mildly that the militias fighting on the Islamist side of the Libyan battles are composed of a mishmash of individuals who by and large are not terrorists, although some members may have links to terrorist organizations.