Terrorism

Fears abound in Sweida after ISIS kills hostage

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and AFP

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Muhannad Thoukan, a 19-year-old who was one of the more than 30 hostages abducted by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' from Sweida province July 25th, has been executed by the group. [Photo circulated on social media]

The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has executed one of dozens of Druze hostages abducted from Syria's southern province of Sweida last week, a journalist in the area and a monitor said Sunday (August 5th).

The killing prompted an offer from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to exchange captured extremists for the remaining Druze civilians.

ISIS went on a rampage in Sweida on July 25th, killing more than 250 people -- mostly civilians -- in the deadliest attack ever to target the mostly government-held province and its Druze religious minority.

The extremists also kidnapped more than 30 people, most of them women and children, from a village in the province, which had previously remained largely isolated from Syria's seven-year civil war.

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Syrian army forces have recently taken position in rural Sweida province ahead of storming 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' hideouts in the area. [Photo circulated on social media]

On Thursday, ISIS killed Muhannad Thakoun, a 19-year-old male student who was among the hostages, the head of the Sweida24 news website Nour Radwan told AFP.

Quoting relatives, Radwan, who was speaking from Sweida, said the young man was taken from the village of al-Shabaki on July 25th along with his mother.

His family received two videos, the first showing him being decapitated and the second of him speaking before being killed as well as images of his body after his death, Radwan said.

Sweida24 posted online part of the second video, seen by AFP, showing a bearded young man who appeared to be sitting on the ground in a landscape of grey rocks.

He is wearing a black T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, and his hands are tied behind his back.

The video could not be independently verified.

'Immense fear' as talks fail

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the young man's execution was the first since the kidnappings.

The execution came "after the failure of talks between ISIS and regime forces over the transfer of ISIS fighters from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya" desert, the Observatory said.

Stepping in with an offer on Sunday, the SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, told AFP that it was "fully prepared" to exchange extremists for the Sweida civilians.

"We assure our people in the town of Sweida and the families of the hostages that we are fully prepared for any exchange with ISIS," SDF spokesman Redur Khalil said.

Immense anger and fear prevail among Sweida residents after Thakoun's execution, political activist Nizar Abu Ali told Diyaruna.

Most of the hostages hail from the village of al-Shabaki, whose residents are "fearful that ISIS might execute all the abductees if the talks between the group and the regime do not produce results", he said.

Regime forces advance to ISIS pocket

Syrian army reinforcements have been arriving in Sweida over the past days, Abu Ali said, confirming "that a major military operation could be launched soon against areas where ISIS elements might be hiding in rural Sweida province".

The Syrian army is conducting a security campaign in al-Lajat area -- which lies in Daraa's northeastern countryside and borders eastern Sweida province --where a large number of individuals suspected of collaborating with ISIS were arrested, he said.

Syrian regime forces bombed late Sunday a desert area under the control of ISIS near Sweida.

"The bombing and fighting between the regime forces and ISIS have intensified during the evening and are continuing," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

"The regime is advancing to the north and northeast of Sweida", adjacent to the desert zone of the southern province, he told AFP.

This military operation would be "the start of a regime offensive to dislodge ISIS from this pocket" in the Badiya desert of Sweida, he said, adding that "a major military reinforcement (of regime troops) is massing" in the area.

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