The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) kidnapped dozens of Druze women and children when it attacked their village last week in Syria's Sweida, residents of the southern province and a monitor said Monday (July 30th).
Sweida, which is mainly government-held and populated with members of Syria's Druze minority, had been largely insulated from the conflict raging in the rest of the country since 2011.
But on Wednesday, a string of suicide blasts and shootings claimed by ISIS left more than 250 people dead, most of them civilians, in the provincial capital and nearby villages.
After the attack, ISIS extremists also abducted several dozen women and children from one village, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Sweida residents.
The Observatory said 36 Druze women and children were abducted, but that four women had since managed to escape while another two had died.
That left 14 women and 16 children in ISIS captivity, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. Another 17 men were unaccounted for, but it was unclear if they were also kidnapped.
According to news outlet Sweida24, the 36 civilians were kidnapped on Wednesday from the village of al-Shabki, in the eastern hinterlands of Sweida province.
Sweida24 and other online outlets published a video that appeared to show one of the hostages making demands of the Syrian government, purportedly on ISIS's behalf.
AFP could not independently verify its authenticity, but several Sweida residents confirmed that a woman appearing in the footage was among those missing after the attacks.
Talks over hostages
The hostages mainly hail from two large families in al-Shabki, said reporter Nour Radwan, who heads Sweida24.
The remote village lies on the eastern edges of Sweida province and suffered some of the deadliest violence from Wednesday's attacks, with more than 60 civilians killed in al-Shabki alone, Radwan said.
"Most of its residents are farmers and do not have much more than hunting rifles in terms of weapons, so there was little resistance from al-Shabki compared to other villages," he told AFP.
"When ISIS saw that, it kidnapped a first batch of people from their homes and took them east towards the Badiya, according to survivors," he added.
The Badiya is Syria's vast desert, which stretches from the country's centre to its eastern border with Iraq and includes several isolated ISIS-held pockets.
ISIS has also reached out to the families of those abducted with pictures and videos.
The extremists are demanding the release by the Syrian government "of detained ISIS-linked people, whose numbers are now being negotiated", said Radwan.
ISIS also wants a halt to a Syrian regime offensive on extremist 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 ISIS and Druze sheikhs," said the source.
ISIS has lost urban strongholds in Syria but still holds parts of the Badiya, including northeastern areas in Sweida and territory by the Iraqi border.
The extremists also control a pocket in Daraa province, directly west of Sweida.
On Monday, Syrian troops began bombing operations ahead of an attack on the main ISIS-held town of Ash-Shajara in Daraa, Syrian state television said.