ISIL fighters seized around 2,000 civilians to use as “human shields” Friday as they fled the stronghold of Manbij in northern Syria, U.S.-backed forces and a monitor said.
Activists said the terror group opened fire on civilians who were trying to flee the withdrawing ISIL convoy.
The Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) expelled most of the ISIL fighters from Manbij last week, but dozens continued to put up a tough resistance.
The SDF is a relatively new rebel alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, said their aim is to root out the ISIL presence in northern Syria.
On Friday ISIL withdrew from a northern neighbourhood heading for an occupied town of Jarabulus along the border with Turkey, taking the captives with them.
“While withdrawing from a district of Manbij, Daesh (ISIL) jihadists abducted around 2,000 civilians from Al-Sirb neighborhood,” said Sherfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, a key component of the SDF.
“They used these civilians as human shields as they withdrew to Jarabulus, thus preventing us from targeting them,” he said, adding that women and children were among those taken.
ISIL, who has recently suffered a string of losses in Syria and Iraq, have often staged mass kidnappings in the two countries when they come under pressure to relinquish territory they hold.
In January, ISIL abducted more than 400 civilians, including women and children, as it overran parts of Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria. It later released around 270 of them.
ISIL has a long history of using civilians as human shields, booby-trapped cars and carried out suicide bombings to slow advances by their opponents and avoid coming under attack.
SDF forces captured Manbij on August 6 but continued to battle pockets of jihadists holed up in parts of the town.
Darwish said the SDF rescued 2,500 civilians who were held captive by ISIL fighters before they fled and combed Al-Sirb on Friday for any remaining jihadists.
With air support from the US-led coalition, the SDF began its assault on Manbij on May 31, surging into the town itself three weeks later.
But their offensive was slowed by a massive jihadist fightback, before a major push last week saw the alliance seize 90 percent of the town.
Tens of thousands of people lived in Manbij before the assault started in May.
The United Nations has said that more than 78,000 people have been displaced since then.
Manbij was a key transit point along ISIL’s supply route from the Turkish border to Raqa, the de facto capital of its self-styled Islamic “caliphate”.
Britain-based The Observatory says the battle for Manbij has claimed the lives of at least 437 civilians — including 105 children — and killed 299 SDF fighters and 1,019 jihadists.
An AFP correspondent in the rebel-held east of the city said several neighborhoods were hit, adding that people had been out on the streets to stock up on supplies after weeks of shortages caused by a punishing government siege.
Syria’s state news agency SANA, quoting a military source, said the warplanes destroyed several rebel positions and vehicles and killed “dozens of terrorists”.
Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 and has since killed more than 290,000 people and drawn in world powers on all sides of the war.
Story compiled with sources from AFP, Xinhua, The Observer and the Associated Press.