Syrian rebels seize ISIS ' apocalyptic battle' site

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army cheer and react as they fight against the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Dabiq, on Oct 15, 2016.
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army cheer and react as they fight against the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Dabiq, on Oct 15, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT • Syrian rebels said they captured the village of Dabiq from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) yesterday, forcing the group from a stronghold where it had promised to fight a final, apocalyptic battle with the West.

The defeat at Dabiq underscores the militant group's declining fortunes this year as it suffered battlefield defeats in Syria and Iraq and lost a string of senior leaders in targeted air strikes.

The group, whose lightning advance through swathes of the two countries and declaration that it had established a new caliphate stunned world leaders in 2014, is now girding for an offensive against Iraq's Mosul, its most prized possession.

The rebels, backed by Turkish tanks and warplanes, took Dabiq and neighbouring Soran after clashes yesterday morning, said Mr Ahmed Osman, head of the Sultan Murad group, one of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions involved in the fighting. "The Daesh myth of their great battle in Dabiq is finished," he told Reuters, using a pejorative name for ISIS.

The Free Syrian Army is an umbrella group for rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions, dragging in regional and global powers and creating space for militants.

The rebels and Turkish military were working to secure Dabiq's surroundings to prevent any remaining ISIS fighters trapped in the area from escaping.

The defeat comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to meet European allies in London as part of a new diplomatic push to end Syria's conflict.

An Islamic prophecy names Dabiq as the site of a battle between Muslims and infidels that will presage doomsday, a message ISIS used extensively in its propaganda, going so far as to name its main publication after the village.

It also chose Dabiq as the location for its killing in 2014 of American Peter Kassig, an aid worker held hostage by the group, by Mohammed al-Emwazi, known as Jihadi John.

However, it has appeared to back away from Dabiq's symbolism since advances by the FSA groups backed by Turkey put it at risk of capture, saying in a more recent statement that this battle was not the one described in the prophecy.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2016, with the headline 'Syrian rebels seize ISIS ' apocalyptic battle' site'. Print Edition | Subscribe