Militants affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) terror group kidnapped at least 19 people, mostly civilians, near a town in central Syria, state media and a monitor group said.
The abduction on Tuesday occurred after a group of IS fighters carried out a “surprise attack” against Syrian government forces near the town of al-Sa’an in Syria’s central province of Hama, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
At least 11 civilians were among those kidnapped by IS militants, according to the observatory. The
other eight were reportedly Syrian government soldiers. The attack also left one civilian dead and several others wounded, state news agency SANA reported.
Despite its territorial defeat in March 2019, IS continues to carry out deadly attacks throughout Syria. In recent weeks, the militant group has also targeted U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, said despite nearly daily airstrikes carried out by Russia, a major Syrian government ally, on IS targets in central Syria, IS militants still pose a threat to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“IS relies on small cells that have the capability to infiltrate regime-held areas and population centers, and conduct swift attacks,” he told VOA in a phone interview. “The militants have extensive knowledge of hideouts and other locations in the Syrian Badia.”
Abdulrahman added that the Syrian desert, known as Badia, has seen many kidnappings by IS militants in recent months.
“They mostly take shepherds whether it’s for ransom or revenge,” he said, adding that IS could use those captured on Tuesday for future prisoner swaps with the Syrian government. Experts said the vast Badia region presents many naturally formed areas for IS, also known as ISIS, to maintain staging points for attacks against sparsely populated, under-guarded communities.
“The security focus of the Assad regime and its allies is not on the Badia, but on the more heavily populated areas of western Syria that are either controlled by the armed opposition like Idlib or are formerly opposition-controlled like areas of Damascus, Aleppo, and in Dara’a,” said Nicholas
Heras, a Senior Analyst at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington.
“So long as ISIS does not try to take and hold territory, the group’s attacks are merely a nuisance to an overstretched regime,” he told VOA.
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