Islamic State militants have abducted about 900 Kurdish civilians in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo over the past three weeks, amid fierce fighting for control of a nearby militant stronghold, a Kurdish official and Syrian activists said Friday.
The abductions began shortly after the Syria Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-dominated coalition of Syrians fighting the Islamic State and backed by the United States, began an offensive on May 31 to capture the town of Manbij from the militants.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 900 Kurdish civilians had been detained near Al Bab, a town held by the Islamic State.
A spokesman for the Syrian Defense Forces, Sherfan Darwish, told The Associated Press that the abductions were in retaliation for the offensive on Manbij. “Whenever Daesh is defeated, they retaliate against civilians,” Mr. Darwish said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL. He said whole families were among those abducted.
The Observatory and Mr. Darwish said that some of those taken captive had been forced to dig trenches in Islamic State-held areas, while others were imprisoned in detention centers. Mr. Darwish said that all captured men and boys older than 12 were sent against their will to the front lines to help fortify the militants’ positions.
The Observatory said Islamic State fighters had stormed homes in several villages they control near Al Bab, including Arab, Qabaseen and Nairabiyeh, and took with them mostly men.
In 2014, fighters abducted nearly 200 Kurdish students near Manbij as they were traveling from the Kurdish border town of Kobani to Aleppo, the provincial capital, to take their exams. Most were released.
In February 2015, the group kidnapped more than 200 Christians from northeastern Syria. The Christians were released over a period of a year, after the Islamic State collected millions of dollars in ransom.
Opposition activists reported clashes inside Manbij on Friday and airstrikes by a United States-led coalition.
Since the offensive to take Manbij began last month, Kurdish fighters and their allies have captured dozens of villages and farms near the town, which Kurdish officials said was now surrounded from all sides.
The battle for Manbij has so far claimed the lives of 81 Syrian Defense Force fighters and 463 Islamic State fighters, according to the Observatory.