According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamic State militants carried out a surprise attack on the Syrian village of Rajm Sleibi in the early hours of Tuesday morning, killing at least 22 people.
Many of the dead were civilian refugees who fled from ISIS-held regions of Syria and Iraq, including the besieged ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul.
An anonymous Kurdish activist told the Associated Press that most of the victims were “women and children” displaced from the Syrian conflict.
A more extensive AP report quotes Kurdish military sources saying the attack began with ISIS suicide bombers dressed in civilian clothes infiltrating the town. According to one observer, the carnage was inflicted by just six Islamic State operatives, who gained access to the refugee area of Rajm Sleibi and began stabbing and shooting helpless victims. Other reports suggest there were more attackers, with about half a dozen of them detonating suicide bombs.
This account includes some higher casualty estimates, ranging up to 32 killed, 23 of them civilians. The AP notes that the refugee camp is “within the zone of influence” of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia, but “not immediately protected” by them.
AFP reports there are about 300 refugee families currently living in the camp ISIS attacked, awaiting clearance from the SDF to move deeper into its territory in Hasakeh province.
The Kurdish Rudaw news service relates “conflicting reports about the number of ISIS attackers.” Rudaw portrays the attack as an act of cruel desperation by the Islamic State, which is very close to losing the strategically vital town of Tabqa west of Raqqa.
In addition to inflicting bloody carnage as revenge for its downfall, the Islamic State may be hoping to divert SDF forces into defensive positions by launching surprise attacks against vulnerable civilian areas, cutting into the offensive military strength directed against Raqqa and the strategic targets around it.