Mass grave found in last Islamic State bastion, says US-backed SDF

Mass grave found in last Islamic State bastion, says US-backed SDF
Women and children are screened by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, in the desert outside Baghouz, Syria, Wednesday. (AP/PTI)
AL-OMAR OIL FIELD BASE, Syria, MAR 28 (Agencies): | Publish Date: 3/1/2019 12:00:00 AM IST

  U.S.-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in Syria have freed 24 of their comrades that were being held by the militants, and uncovered a mass grave near the last pocket of territory held by the extremist group, a spokesman said Thursday.

Adnan Afrin of the Syrian Democratic Forces said the grave unearthed a few days ago outside the village of Baghouz contains the remains of men and women but said the number of bodies and their identities remain unclear. A video published by Kurdish-run Furat FM TV station published Wednesday showed several bodies dug out from a pit. The Kurdish-led SDF has been locked in a standoff with a few hundred IS militants holed up in Baghouz with civilians. The militants are besieged in a small sliver of land along the Euphrates River with dwindling food and medicine, but refuse to surrender.

Thousands of civilians, many of them women and children, have evacuated the area in the past few weeks. Their presence among the IS fighters has delayed a final military push by the SDF to uproot the militants from their last corner in Syria.

Afrin said his forces managed to free 24 SDF fighters from the extremist group’s hold while evacuating civilians from the area in the past few days. Hundreds, if not thousands, more remain holed up in Baghouz — the last redoubt of the militants’ self-proclaimed caliphate that once stretched across much of Syria and Iraq. They include militants and their family members and other civilians who are among the group’s most determined supporters, many of whom traveled to Syria from all over the world.

Recapturing Baghouz would mark an end to the militants’ territorial rule, but few believe that will end the threat posed by an organization that still stages and inspires attacks through sleeper cells in both Syria and Iraq and that has active affiliates in Egypt, West Africa and elsewhere. The group also has a presence online, using social media to recruit new members and promote its attacks.

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