MOSCOW (AP) — Islamic State fighters in Syria have recently seized some 700 people as hostages and are carrying out executions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
“They have been recently expanding their area and took about 130 families hostage, which accounts for about 700 people,” Putin said at an international policy forum in Sochi.
He said the hostages included US and European nationals.
Putin said the jihadists have put forth demands, which he did not specify, and have warned that they would kill 10 people a day if the demands are not met.
“They killed 10 people the day before yesterday,” he said. “They are now carrying out their threats.”
State news agency Tass Wednesday cited an unnamed “diplomatic-military source” as saying the hostages were seized in a raid on a refugee camp and were demanding Syria free IS members.
On Saturday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that the fighting on Friday in the Hajin camp for the displaced near Deir Ezzor left 20 IS gunmen and “several” SDF fighters dead.
It added that IS gunmen seized civilians by force and took them to areas in the last pocket of territory they control in the region.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s war, said as many as 130 families were abducted by the extremists. The Observatory warned that IS might kill them.
The Observatory said the families are mostly made up of foreign women, including widows of IS members who had been killed earlier in the Syrian war.
However, a Pentagon spokesman denied Thursday the accuracy of the numbers.
“While we have confirmed that there was an attack on an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp near (Deir-al Zor) last week, we have no information supporting the large number of hostages alleged by President Putin and we are skeptical of its accuracy,” Commander Sean Robertson said in a statement, according to Reuters.
“We are also unaware of any US nationals located in that camp,” Robertson added.
Since IS lost most of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq over the past two years, the extremists have been resorting to attacks on civilians to show that they are still effective.