More than 2,000 Isis hostages freed from Manbij

Syria war: ISIS flees Manbij with ‘human shields’

The Islamic State stronghold of Manbij, in northern Syria, has fallen to allied Arab and Kurdish fighters, who freed more than 2,000 hostages held there by the terrorist group.

A spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said they had taken over the city after the last Isis militants fled on Friday. According to the SDF and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the freed hostages had been used as “human shields”.

Sharfan Darwish of the SDF-allied Manbij military council told Reuters: “The city is now fully under our control but we are undertaking sweeping operations.”

Pentagon deputy press secretary Gordon Trowbridge said: “Although fighting in Manbij continues, Isil is clearly on the ropes. It has lost the centre of Manbij, it has lost control of Manbij.”

The Arab-Kurdish alliance had expelled most of the Isis fighters from Manbij by last week but dozens continued to put up a tough resistance until Friday.

The abductions took place as Russian and Syrian jets pounded rebel positions in and around Aleppo, killing at least 20 people, a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Prior to their withdrawal from Manbij, the Isis fighters abandoned a northern neighbourhood, taking the captives with them. They headed for the town of Jarabulus, along the border with Turkey, which their forces hold.

“While withdrawing from a district of Manbij, Daesh [Isis] jihadis abducted around 2,000 civilians from Al-Sirb neighbourhood,” said Darwish. “They used these civilians as human shields as they withdrew to Jarabulus, thus preventing us from targeting them,” he said, adding that women and children were among those taken.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside Syria to cover the war, gave a similar report, saying Isis forced about 2,000 civilians into cars it confiscated and headed for Jarabulus.

The jihadis, who have suffered a string of recent losses in Syria and Iraq, have often staged mass kidnappings in the two countries when they come under pressure to relinquish territory.