Isil attack on Kobane is 'second biggest massacre' of civilians by the group in Syria
When Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) returned to the Syrian town of Kobane last week, they showed no mercy, spraying whole families with bullets and carrying out executions inside residents' homes.
By sundown, the town was counting its dead from one of the extremist group's deadliest massacres of the country's war.
Isil's terrifying "killing rampage" is described by survivors in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released yesterday. Most of the at least 262 civilian deaths took place in the space of a single morning. Hundreds more people were injured.
The attack began with car bombs before dawn and by 4.30am on June 25, Isil militants were driving down the streets in white cars or on foot, shooting civilians as they fled down streets or tried to drive to safety.
Awakened by the sound of a young girl's screams, Zarga (41), told HRW that she was shot when she ventured out to help. "They fired at me five times but only one bullet hit me. I fell down," she said.
Braving bullets, the family members took her to a local hospital and later to Turkey. "We never learned what happened to the screaming girl," Zarga said.
Isil has continuously lost ground against the Kurds since being driven out of Kobane last autumn, even as they have continued to make advances against the Syrian and Iraqi governments.
The ferocity of their recent assault on the town seemed intended to sow the seeds of terror against a population that had only just returned to the city, much of which had been destroyed in the extremist group's five month-long battle with Kurdish forces backed by US airpower.
On that Thursday, the attackers were disguised in uniforms resembling those of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which has controlled the city since that battle. Others appeared to be from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an armed opposition group that has in recent months fought Isil alongside the Kurds.
"We saw two cars full of men and women in YPG uniforms," said Fatima (33), who was driving to a Kobane hospital early on the morning of the attack. "My husband was shot in the head and his blood was all over the car." It is unclear whether women fought in the Isil ranks, or whether they only served as decoys.
Many Kobane residents were targeted as they ventured out to collect the dead and wounded. Mohammed (42), said he had lost eleven family members in quick succession.
Several had been trying to rescue loved ones who had already been targeted.
The Islamic State group killed 262 civilians in its offensive on the Kurdish town of Kobane, in what one monitor described as one of the jihadists' "worst massacres" in Syria
When Mohammed's brother was shot in the early hours of the morning, his wife tried to retrieve the body. "As she tried to lift him up they shot her as well. She had been holding her two-month-old son," he said. The infant escaped death a second time later that morning when another relative was killed as he nestled in her arms.
Some attackers followed civilians into homes to kill entire families, witnesses, said.
"By all accounts, this was a planned attack on the civilian population of this area," said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counter-terrorism researcher at HRW.
The YPG said it had taken full control of Kobane on Saturday, three days after the Isil assault.
"This was not about re-taking Kobane, this was about sending a message that they are still to be feared," said Redur Xelil, a spokesman, last week.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces mounted heavy air strikes yesterday against rebel positions in and around the northern city of Aleppo, the focus of an insurgent offensive aimed at capturing areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group monitoring the war, said fighting between the insurgents and government forces continued into the early hours of Friday, and Syrian army air strikes on rebel positions were continuous.
A Syrian military source said the attack had been repelled and heavy casualties had been inflicted on the insurgents, adding that the air force and artillery had been used to target the rebels who in turn had used heavy weapons in their attack.
Syrian insurgents led by Islamist groups began a major offensive to gain full control of the city on Thursday.
The Observatory's Rami Abdulrahman said the rebel forces had seized some buildings from government control on the northwestern city outskirts, but the advance was not of strategic importance.
He said the town of Azaz in the countryside north of Aleppo had also been targeted in the air strikes.
The fall of Syria's main commercial hub would be a major blow for Assad, restricting his control mainly to a belt of territory stretching north from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.
This would deepen Syria's de facto partition between the Assad-run west and areas held by a patchwork of armed groups.
A statement by the groups said their goal was to "liberate the city of Aleppo" and to ensure that when it fell into their hands it would be ruled by strict sharia principles. (© Daily Telegraph London)