Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Deir Ezzor mosque in east Syria used as ISIS command base hit in airstrike

The US-led coalition said that the religious building lost its protected status as soon as the militants used it to direct attacks

An SDF commander looks for ISIS positions from a rooftop near the front line in Bagouz, Syria. Getty Images
An SDF commander looks for ISIS positions from a rooftop near the front line in Bagouz, Syria. Getty Images

Jets from the US-led coalition have struck mosques used by cornered ISIS fighters battling to hold on to a tiny pocket in eastern Syria as the ground war against the group enters its final throes.

The international anti-ISIS coalition said it had hit mosques being used as command and control centres. Although it didn’t give details of the location of the strikes, ISIS is clinging to its last territory around the village of Baghouz. From commanding swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2015, the coalition, backed by government ground forces in Iraq and the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces militia in Syria have eroded the group’s area of control.

The coalition said that the targets were being used to direct attacks and employ suicide car bombs against SDF forces.

The coalition's deputy commander, Maj Gen Christopher Ghika, was quoted in the statement as saying "this mosque lost its protected status when ISIS deliberately chose to use it as a command and control centre."

The SDF on Saturday launched its final push to clear the area after months of fighting.

Meanwhile, police in Jakarta said that a prominent Indonesian ISIS militant, responsible for murdering hostages and appearing in propaganda videos, had been killed.

Muhammad Saifuddin, who was known by various aliases including Abu Walid, was killed by shrapnel from a tank shell in late January in eastern Deir Ezzor province, Indonesian national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

Mr Prasetyo described him as an ISIS "executioner and soldier".

The US government had placed Saifuddin, alongside two militants from Malaysia and the Philippines, on a special global counter-terrorism list last August.

According to the US Department of Treasury's website, Saifuddin, also known as Mohammed Karim Yusop Faiz, had gone to Syria to join ISIS in 2014 and taken part in the execution of a prisoner in June 2016. He had previously been imprisoned in the Philippines for nine years on charges of illegal possession of explosives and weapons, it said.

Sofyan Tsauri, a former Indonesian militant, said Saifuddin was "an important figure" in ISIS who represented its Southeast Asian contingent and had been close to the group's leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

Muinudinillah Basri, Saifuddin's brother, said that he had learned of his brother's death after receiving a photo of his body.

He had not seen his brother since he left for Syria with his wife and children, he said.

As the battle draws in on the last ISIS territory, hundreds of women and children have been fleeing the intense fighting, arriving on SDF frontlines in open top pick-up trucks. The malnourished, dirt caked figures are transferred to displaced persons’ camps run by the Kurdish forces hundreds of kilometres away from the battle.

They were born in a "state" that no longer exists, most to fathers killed in fighting and mothers whose countries don't want them back.

Infants as young as three months old are among the children emerging from ISIS’s last hold. Most are dressed in an assortment of clothing, tiny knit sweaters and hats, puffer jackets, blankets. It is hard to tell how thin or young their mothers are under their all-encompassing black robes, but their eyes are gaunt and sunken, their bone-thin hands blackened with dirt.

Food and safe drinking water have been scarce for weeks as the US-backed forces close in.

But somehow, babies are still being born. Khadija is one year old, born under ISIS in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. She was swaddled in a thick blanket by her mother, a 17-year-old Syrian girl from 500 kilometres away in the northern city of Manbij.

Her father, just as young, has been rounded up by the SDF and placed into another truck with dozens of men.

Updated: February 12, 2019 05:11 PM

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