Tom Coghlan, Foreign Correspondent and Catherine Philp, Beirut
A senior militant who oversaw beheadings for Islamic State has himself been found decapitated amid signs of civilian resistance to the jihadists’ rule in Syria.
Abu Zaid al-Masri, an Egyptian, was deputy leader of the so-called al-Hesbah police force in Mayadeen. His body was found near a power plant south of the city in Deir-al-Zor province.
Islamic State (Isis) has imposed strict controls over its territory across Syria and Iraq, which the al-Hesbah police enforce.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group, said that al-Masri’s body showed signs of torture. A cigarette had been stuffed in his mouth — mocking the jihadists’ draconian enforcement of religious edicts, which include a ban on smoking. A note pinned to his torso read: “This is evil, you Sheikh.”
Activists inside the city of Raqqa who are members of the anti-Isis group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently confirmed the death of the militant, his name and position.
Abu Ward, a member of the group that publishes information on social media from inside the city, said that the killing was an act of “personal revenge” by civilians.
He said that the militant and five other Isis fighters were killed by masked attackers who rode motorbikes and a four-wheel-drive car and used pistols with silencers. An overnight curfew was imposed after the attack, he said.
The Syrian Observatory also said that a number of assassination attempts on Isis fighters had taken place in Mayadeen on Monday. In one instance a car ran over a fighter on a roundabout. In another, an Isis fighter was struck with a metal object by a man on a passing motorbike.
Activists said that an Isis judge and his bodyguard had been killed in November by unknown gunmen in the town of Abu Kamal, which lies 30 miles south of Mayadeen.
Meanwhile, American troops have begun the task of training Iraqi soldiers for an offensive to push Isis out of the country, expected later this year.
More than 300 US Marines are training members of the Iraqi 7th Division at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, which comes under regular mortar fire from Isis militants nearby.
Another 170 soldiers from the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division are training four battalions of Iraqi security forces in Taji, a predominantly Sunni area north of Baghdad.
The Pentagon said that training began at two Iraqi military bases late last month.
The offensive later this year will focus on Iraq’s second city of Mosul and the surrounding areas that fell to Isis in June after the Iraqi army ran away.
A second offensive will focus on the strategically critical Anbar province, just west of Baghdad, which has fallen under increasing Isis control since its militants overran Fallujah a year ago, securing their first important foothold inside Iraq.
France is expected to send the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and a fleet of warships to the Gulf in the coming days to support operations against Isis.
Khaled al-Obeidi, Iraq’s defence minister, said yesterday that the Iraqi military had begun the process of rebuilding after its humiliating collapse last summer. However, he emphasised that the effort to reconstruct and reform the military from top to bottom was still in its early stages.
The effort to reconstruct Iraq’s demoralised and corrupt military began in earnest after the resignation of the former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in the face of overwhelming international pressure.
He stepped down in August after losing the support of both Washington and his traditional backers in Iran who worried that his divisive sectarian policies had helped alienate the Sunni population and facilitated Isis’ meteoric rise.
The United States and Turkey are finalising plans to begin training and equipping thousands of moderate Syrian opposition fighters on Turkish soil this spring.
Isis has distributed images of the killings of eight more Iraqis, some of whom it said were informants helping to guide American airstrikes. The men were shown in orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by aid workers and journalists who were later beheaded. The Iraqis were shown in the video, Day of Judgment, being dragged to a river bank, allegedly in Salahuddin Province, Iraq, by masked men and shot in the head. The militant group has killed thousands of people in Iraq and Syria, some in highly choreographed videotaped sequences in which the victims are beheaded.
Source : http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article4315866.ece