The Islamic State (ISIS) attacked strategic points in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour Saturday, reportedly killing and kidnapping hundreds of residents said to be supportive of the government. As news of the attacks came to light, numbers of casualties reported ranged from 135 to over 300, with as many as 400 others allegedly kidnapped.
Deir al-Zour, also known as Deir ez-Zor, is located in central Syria. Much of the city and its surrounding countryside are controlled by ISIS, but several key positions are still in government hands. The city is an important holding for the militant group, as it serves as the link between its operational zones and its de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa.
Early reports from state-run SANA news agency claimed 300 residents had been massacred, most of whom were elderly folk, women and children, according to The Independent. The UK-based paper reported that the British Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number at 135, while media activist Ahmed Helwani told ARA News 130 civilians and 40 soldiers had been killed.
“The militants broke into the regime-held neighborhoods of Ayash and Begayliya, and attacked people in their homes,” Helwani said. “Their main target was the pro-regime soldiers and their families.”
The Observatory also accused ISIS of abducting 400 family members of supporters of Bashar Assad’s regime, but another activist told BBC regional analyst Sebastian Usher that 20 individuals were arrested. The activist did confirm that militants entered the neighborhoods with lists of pro-government fighters.
One civil rights activist, who spoke to ARA News on condition of anonymity, explained, “ISIS is punishing families of pro-regime soldiers after the group lost the battle for Deir ez-Zor’s military airport.”
According to the BBC, since Saturday’s attacks, Syria has reportedly launched a counter-offensive, supported by Russian airstrikes.
During the Syrian civil war, which has lasted nearly five years so far, some 250,000 people have been killed and another 11 million have been displaced as Bashar’s forces face off against various rebel groups and the jihadists of ISIS.