In a bold move made to widen their area of influence outside of Raqqa in northeastern Syria, fighters from the Islamic State (formerly ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) captured a Syrian army base in a two-day assault.
Gruesome pictures (see video below) emerged after the battle, showing Islamic State fighters parading with the decapitated heads of the Syrian soldiers who they slaughtered at the army base. Islamic State militants displayed them on fence posts in Raqqa and strewed them on the streets of the town.
Two jihadists from Australia, Sydney-born former boxer Mohamed Elomar and his friend, convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, used social media to publish the images to taunt the world. Elomar, with his sunglasses stylishly tucked into his shirt, can be seen in a smiling pose holding up two severed heads. Before his Twitter account was shut down, Sharrouf tweeted:
Sharrouf was convicted of a failed attempt to blow up sites in Sydney and Melbourne. He is believed to have fled Australia with Elomar on his brother’s passport.
Elomar's wife Fatima, 29, is still in Sydney and was charged earlier this month with “preparing for incursions into a foreign state with the intention of engaging in hostile activities.”
Of the 85 Syria soldiers said to have been slaughtered by the Islamic State, close to 50 were beheaded, according to reports.
The head of the watchdog group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Abdel Rahman said the public display was "a message to the people of Raqqa, to tell them it [the Islamic State] is strong, that it isn't going anywhere and to terrify" anyone who may think of opposing them.
The assault on the army base of Syria’s Division 17 outside of Raqqa began with at night with suicide car bombs. The base is Syria’s largest in the area and is reported to be well-stocked with weapons and ammunition.
Rahman said that hundreds of Syrian troops "withdrew on Friday to safe places — either to nearby villages whose residents oppose ISIS [the Islamic State] or to nearby Brigade 93 — but the fate of some 200 remains unknown."
Rahman also commented, "There is a clear shift in the ISIS strategy. It has moved from consolidating its total control in areas under its grip. It is now spreading."
"For ISIS, fighting the regime is not about bringing down Assad. It is about expanding its control," he added.
At present, the Islamic State is in control almost the entire Raqqa province as well as Deir Al-Zor on the border with Iraq. In June, the group captured vast amounts of territory in northwest Iraq as well as heavy weapons from fleeing Iraqi soldiers.
Since 2011, when the uprising began in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad, close to 170,000 people have been killed, with third being civilians. Nine million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the conflict.
Warning: The following video contains graphic content