A senior figure from the self-declared police force of the Islamic State has been beheaded in a Syrian province, a Britain-based monitoring group said Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also says Kurdish forces may be on the verge of recapturing a key border town from Islamic State militants.
The Observatory’s Rami Abdurrahman says the man, known as a senior IS police official, was found in the eastern Syrian province Deir-al-Zor. He says the body displayed signs of torture and was found with a cigarette in the mouth; Abdurrahman says it is not clear who killed him.
The Observatory also reports that two Islamic State militants were attacked by unknown assailants in the Deir-al-Zor city of al-Mayadeen.
The death and attacks come a day after Kurdish forces made major gains in the Syrian border town Kobani. Abdurrahman says fighting was ongoing Tuesday, with IS militants continuing to lose control. “They are losing again some buildings and some roads on the south-east of Security Square,” said Abdurrahman.
Kobani is a strategically important town on the border between Turkey and Syria, which IS fighters first attacked in September.
But with support from U.S.-led airstrikes and reinforced by Kurds from Iraq, according to Abdurrahman, Kurdish fighters have taken back around 80 percent of the area.
“Next few days, if they continue like what happened yesterday, it could be that Kobani will be out of ISIS control.”
Middle East expert Michael Stephens, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, says Kobani will most likely be won back by the Kurds. But he says the Islamic State may be putting its focus elsewhere.
“I think ISIS has realized that it is just not worth it expending that much resources on it anymore; there are bigger fish to fry. So they have concentrated attacks in other areas where I think they have more strategic or logistical importance than a small town on the border with Turkey.”
But he says the town has become an important symbol of resistance against the Islamic State, and in that respect this is an important victory.
“There is a sense that the tide is turning, that ISIS are beginning to feel the pinch. But the real core operational heartlands of the Islamic State have yet to be affected and until that happens we can not really say this is going well.”
All the same, he adds, the anti-IS push is going better than it was six months ago.