The bodies of 67 Syrian civilians has been found in a central town in Syria, that was retaken from Islamic State by government troops over the weekend.
Many of the bodies have been identified as kills by the Islamic State group. News erupted late Sunday of the gruesome find. Number of bodies is likely to continue climbing.
A senior Syrian official described the attack as a “shocking massacre,” saying the search and documentation of those killed in the town of Qaryatayn, in Homs province, is still under way.
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According to activists, at least 35 of the bodies were shot in the street and dumped in a shaft as IS militants retreated from the town.
The killings are being reported as revenge killings by the IS group while it fights to hang on to its last strongholds in Syria. The killings underscore the Islamic State group’s ability to inflict heavy losses in Syria even while its militants are on the retreat in north and eastern Syria, days after having been defeated in Raqqa, the group’s one-time “capital” of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
The Associated Press released video footage filmed as Syrian government troops recaptured Qaryatayn, showed several bodies in the streets of the town. In the video, a town resident says IS “monsters” killed more than a 100 people, including soldiers and civilians.
“These are people who don’t know God, they don’t know anything. They killed children and women with knives, they beat women, broke their arms,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity fearing for his own safety.
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The governor of Homs province, Talal Barazi, reported to The Associated Press on Monday that most of the bodies were of townspeople who were government employees or were affiliated with Syria’s ruling Baath party.
He said the killings went on for the three weeks that IS was in town and “terrorized” its residents, adding that at least 13 residents remain missing while six bodies have not been identified.
During the last day of the Islamic State’s control of the town, The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the killings of at least 128 people killed in Qaryatayn.
For three weeks, IS held control of the town, and on Saturday, Syrian troops and allied militias regained control. It was reported that the Syrian army and its allies restored security and stability to Qaryatayn after clearing the town of IS fighters.
The activist-run Palmyra Coordination Committee published the names of 67 civilians confirmed killed and said other bodies were also found in the town streets — apparently of people shot by pro-government forces and suspected of working with IS. The Observatory also said it documented at least 12 killed at the hands of pro-government troops after they regained control of the town.
The fight to regain control of Qaryatayn has been ongoing for two years. IS militants first gained control of the town in August 2015. At that time, Christian residents fled in fear of the extremist group’s brutality.
In April of 2015, Russia backed Syrian troops and helped them to regain control of the town, but by September, IS launched a new attack on the town and recaptured it.
At the time of the new attack, Russia accused the United States of allowing IS to attack Qaryatayn.
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Most of the IS militants who were involved in attacks on the town were local residents. Pro-government media blamed the loss of Qaryatayn for the second time on what it described as militant “sleeper cells.”
There was no immediate comment from the government in Damascus on the find of the civilian bodies in Qaryatayn.
–The Associated Press contributed to this article.