In August, we reported on claims of a massacre by the Islamic State of members of the al-Sheitat tribe in Deir Ez Zor Province in eastern Syria.
The elders of the tribe had dared to challenge the jihadists as the Islamic State advanced through the province. After an Islamic State fighter reportedly raped a refugee woman, members took up arms.
They were no match for the Islamic State’s heavy weapons, however, and their defeat was followed by retribution. Survivors said about 700 tribal fighters and civilians were slain.
The story received little attention from mainstream media. Beyond the accounts of the survivors — if they were noticed — it was difficult to confirm the details. News outlets found it easier to report on the refugee crisis on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, which had prompted US aerial intervention against the Islamic State.
Now Liz Sly of The Washington Post has gone back to those days in August to question lack of action against the jihadists through the words of a Sheitat tribesman: “Even now, Washington has directed little effort toward helping Sunni Arabs who want to fight the militants but lack the resources to do so.”
The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.
By the time the killing stopped, 700 people were dead, activists and survivors say, making this the bloodiest single atrocity committed by the Islamic State in Syria since it declared its existence 18 months ago.
The little-publicized story of this failed tribal revolt in Abu Hamam, in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province, illuminates the challenges that will confront efforts to persuade those living under Islamic State rule — in Iraq as well as Syria — to join the fight against the jihadist group, something U.S. officials say is essential if the campaign against the militants is to succeed.
The Abu Hamam area has now been abandoned, and many of the bodies remain uncollected, offering a chilling reminder to residents elsewhere of the fate that awaits those who dare rebel.
Just as powerful a message for those living under the militants’ iron fist was the almost complete international silence on the bloodbath.
(Featured Photo: Men executed by Islamic State in Deir Ez Zor Province, August 2014)