BAGHDAD — Fighters from the Islamic State stripped more than 100 captured Syrian soldiers down to their underwear and marched them through the desert to a patch of sand, where they were lined up and gunned down, according to video images posted online Thursday and a fighter from the group who was reached through the Internet.
The mass killing marked a dark end to the battle for control of the Taqba air base in Raqqa province. The insurgents seized the base Sunday after the deadliest fighting so far between the Islamic State and the government forces.
The video images surfaced on the same day that Syrian rebel fighters captured 43 U.N. peacekeepers near the demarcation line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after heavy fighting in the area between non-Islamic State rebel fighters and government troops.
The Islamic State has often distributed graphic images of its dead foes as it has stormed through northern Iraq and seized Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. But even by the group’s usual brutal standards, the video images of jihadist fighters taunting humiliated, nearly naked soldiers as they were led to their deaths were horrifying, sending shock waves through Syrian communities that have stood by President Bashar Assad through more than three years of civil war.
Compounding the reaction were apparent attempts by the government to play down the loss of the base. The state news agency, SANA, reported on the day the base fell that troops there had withdrawn and regrouped, and were fighting successfully nearby.
The next day, Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, made only a brief reference to the battle in an hourlong interview, conceding that the base had been lost but claiming that all troops and aircraft had been successfully withdrawn.
Anger erupted Thursday after a normally pro-government Facebook page dedicated to the soldiers stationed at the base posted one video of the captured soldiers being marched through the desert, and another that showed their bodies — more than 120 of them — lying in a long line.
“Stop circulating false news,” wrote one commenter under the name Zahraa al-Hassan. “They are driving our soldiers like a herd of sheep.” The commenter called the Assad government “a filthy failure that has destroyed the country’s trees and people and allowed ISIS to rise,” using an abbreviation for another of the Islamic State’s names.
Many comments posted on the site assailed Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the defense minister, who retained his post in a new Cabinet announced Wednesday despite the loss of three important military facilities to Islamic State fighters in little more than a month.
An illustration posted on the page sarcastically addressed Assad’s press office, saying it had promised to “do everything necessary to follow up on the shortcomings that have led to the loss of a number of areas and a large number of martyrs for the homeland.”