At least 230 civilians, including 45 women and 19 children, were abducted by Islamic State fighters following the capture of the Syrian town of al-Qaryatain in the province of Homs, according to reports.
The move is the biggest capture of territory by IS since the group took Palmyra in May. Al-Qaryatain is home to an estimated population of 40,000; the town has become a refuge to thousands fleeing violence from other regions across the war-torn country.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), among the captured were 60 Syrian Christians, many of whom are women and children. IS demands the religious conversion of those it captures with the death penalty as punishment for those that refuse.
The town was seized on Thursday night following intense fighting between IS and Syrian army combatants and was possibly targeted due to its strategic position near a road connecting Palmyra to the Qalamoun Mountains, which is located along the Lebanese border.
The BBC reports that “scores” of fighters from both IS and Assad forces were killed in fighting that began following a string of suicide bombings targeted at a number of the town’s checkpoints. The deaths will add to the growing list of 230,000 Syrians already killed in the violent civil war that began in March of 2011.