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Despite crackdown, IS continues to kill, kidnap civilians in east Syria

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Islamic State (IS) cells have been accused of being behind a latest wave of assassinations in opposition to civilians and tribal elders within the countryside of Deir ez-Zor in japanese Syria. The uptick in assassinations has pushed the US-led worldwide coalition to accentuate its navy operations in opposition to IS, which has just lately resumed its actions in opposition to civilians and navy personnel within the space.

On Jan. 12, unidentified gunmen killed Sheikh Atliyoush Shatat, a notable of the Akidat tribe, within the village of Hwaij Dhiban within the japanese countryside of Deir ez-Zor. According to media studies, Shatat, 90, was a distinguished tribal determine who performed important roles in battle decision.

On Dec. 31, 2020, the US-led coalition carried out an airdrop of forces within the japanese countryside of Deir ez-Zor and launched numerous missiles at a hut housing an IS cell. Three gunmen, together with one Syrian nationwide from Hwaij Dhiban and two alleged Iraqi nationals, have been killed within the operation, in response to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

An officer within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir ez-Zor informed Al-Monitor on situation of anonymity that IS cells are terrorizing civilians within the desert of Deir ez-Zor, threatening to kill them if they don’t pay them the zakat (charitable fee). “IS cells are threatening merchants and middle-income citizens in short text messages, demanding them to pay a sum of up to $5,000. Those who refuse to pay are accused of apostasy and IS vows to kill them,” he stated.

“Last month, IS threatened to kill a cattle trader if he did not pay them $4,000. When he refused, they threw a sound bomb at his house causing material damage. IS also threatened to burn a wool merchant’s house and to kidnap and kill one of his sons in case he does not pay them $5,000. The merchant who was afraid for his life ended up paying the IS [militants],” the officer stated.

Ghanem Omair, a meals service provider in Deir ez-Zor, informed Al-Monitor that IS cells threatened him on three events, demanding him to pay the zakat. He stated, “I received three WhatsApp messages from an unknown number. [The caller] identified himself as a caliphate soldier. He threatened to kill my family and bomb my stores if I refuse to pay $5,000. I feared for the life of my family and thus paid them the money. I fled with my family to the city of Hasakah to avoid more threats in the future.”

The SDF officer believes that IS goals to impose authority over civilians, whereas resorting to kidnappings and brutal killings in an effort to intimidate them and drive them to pay the zakat. It seeks to protect its monetary sources by way of tax or zakat assortment from civilians, he added.

Despite the crackdown the Kurdish-led SDF are conducting in Deir ez-Zor and its countryside, IS continues to assassinate civilians within the SDF-held areas. Media sources revealed Dec. 29 that IS cells kidnapped and killed in late December Omar Hamdan, a youth from the village of al-Zer. 

On Dec. 22, IS militants additionally killed Barakat al-Abdullah al-Muhammad, a displaced youth from the city of al-Busayrah. In one other incident, militants had shot useless a younger civilian named Muhammad al-Jasem al-Barzi and dumped his physique near the General Security constructing in al-Susah in Deir ez-Zor countryside.

Shamil Hazem, a photojournalist from Deir ez-Zor, informed Al-Monitor, “The security crackdown led by the SDF — with air support from the US-led coalition — has not hindered IS that continues to launch operations, including killings, terrorist bombings and other attacks. Meanwhile, IS cells also continue to threaten people into paying the zakat through WhatsApp messages.”

Ali Ghasham, a trainer from Deir ez-Zor countryside whose brother was kidnapped by IS six months in the past, informed Al-Monitor, “We do not know why my brother was kidnapped. He was only 13 years old when IS kidnapped him while on his way back home from school. We know nothing about him.” 

Ghasham stated that IS beheaded many civilians for coping with the SDF or the regime, or for refusing to pay zakat. “IS commits most of its horrific killings in the countryside where they throw the victims’ bodies in the wilderness of Deir ez-Zor countryside. In November, IS cells beheaded three young men in the villages of Takihi, Hujna and Daman in the northern Deir ez-Zor countryside, after kidnapping them and demanding a $6,000 ransom for each. Yet the deteriorating economic situation prevents the families from paying these large sums, and they subsequently lose their family members,” he concluded.

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