BEIRUT - Mourners in southern Syria attended mass funerals Thursday for least 216 people killed in coordinated attacks by Islamic State fighters on a usually peaceful city and surrounding countryside. In the worst violence to hit the area since the country’s conflict began, the militants also reportedly abducted at least 18 people, activists said.
The simultaneous attacks on the city of Sweida and surrounding villages a day earlier evoked the dark days of Islamic State violence that beleaguered Syria and neighboring Iraq during the group’s heyday in 2014 and 2015. The abduction of civilians - activists say at least 14 were women - also were reminiscent of the group’s tactic of taking hostages and using women as sex slaves.
A mass funeral was held in the city of Sweida on Thursday where men gathered in a hall to pay their respects to the dead. The devastated city was covered in black and shops were closed during the day to mourn the mass deaths.
Until Wednesday, Sweida, home to a predominantly Druze community, had largely been spared the violence that has hit Syria since 2011.
As Syria’s civil war took increasingly sectarian undertones, pitting the largely Sunni opposition against the predominantly Alawite ruling class, the Druze minority stayed largely on the sidelines. Community leaders in Sweida took a firm position against participating in the war, resisting enrolling their sons in the army to avoid revenge attacks. The Druze, followers of an esoteric offshoot of Islam, have kept their own local militias.
The attacks Wednesday rocked the community, sparking criticism of the government for failing to protect the minority group that has for years been spared the violence.