The Islamic State has recently released a new photo set showing its forces engaging Syrian regime troops in the central province of Hama. The jihadist group previously had an administrative division for the Syrian province, but after defeats by both the regime and other rebel forces, it largely pulled out of Hama. However, in December, the Islamic State regained ground in the province and reestablished the division.
This new photo set deals with the fighting in the town of Sheikh al Hilal, which sits just northeast of the city of Al Salamiyah. The caption on the release states that the fighting was on the highway between Al Salamiyah and Raqqah, which is the proclaimed capital of the Islamic State. Al Monitor has reported that the jihadist group tried to take control of the highway, which also branches out into Aleppo and is the regime’s main supply route into that province, but it was unsuccessful. However, the photo report details that the Islamic State was able to overrun a regime position on the highway.
The pictures detail this battle, as well as show the spoils taken from the regime. The Islamic State shows several PK machine guns, SVD sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s), grenades, and large amounts of ammunition. Other pictures show the beheading of at least five regime corpses, but are too graphic to be shown here. This battle and subsequent photo report comes just days after the Islamic State released a video from Hama in which more than six regime soldiers were beheaded. The video, entitled “Strike their Necks”, detailed a child handing the fighters the execution knives before committing the murders. The video also showed other younger fighters, but they did not do the beheadings.
This is not the first time the Islamic State has used children in execution videos. In January, the group used a Kazakh child to execute two alleged Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) spies. The young boy was previously featured in an Islamic State video highlighting a training camp for Kazakh recruits and their children in Raqqah. More recently, the jihadist group used a French child to execute an alleged Israeli spy. In the most recent issue of its online English-language magazine Dabiq, the Islamic State justified its use of child executioners on the basis of Islamic history.
The Islamic State runs many training camps for children in Syria and Iraq. The group has a camp for children in Damascus, many camps in Raqqah and Mosul, and at least one for children in Tal Afar. The jihadist group utilizes these camps to radicalize and indoctrinate children into its violent ideology. (For more on these camps and many others in Iraq and Syria, see the map of jihadist training camps made by The Long War Journal here.)
Also in Hama, The New York Times has reported that the Islamic State was able to attack and capture the village of Maboujeh in recent days. Maboujeh sits just southeast of Sheikh Hilal and is close to Al Salamiyah. The Times quotes a resident of the village as saying that “48 bodies were buried” in the town. This offensive comes as the Islamic State attacked the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. The jihadist group was able to seize portions of the Yarmouk camp away from Palestinian factions on Apr. 1. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the Aknaf Bayt al Maqdis group, which is loyal to Hamas, was able to drive the Islamic State out of the areas it controls. SOHR reported today that the Islamic State is launching a new offensive on the camp but is being met with stiff resistance from Aknaf Bayt al Maqdis “backed by Islamic factions.” “Islamic factions” usually denotes groups belonging to the Islamic Front, which is allied to al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front. Jaish al Islam, the Islamic Front faction operating in Damascus, released a statement on Twitter saying that they are assisting Aknaf in its fight against the Islamic State.
Photos released by the Islamic State showing the battle at Sheikh Hilal:
Photos showing children used in the execution video from Hama: