Since the start of the military offensive to retake the Syrian city of Manbij from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), the group has abducted around 900 residents of al-Bab in Aleppo province and killed at least 150 others.
The kidnappings began in June when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurd opposition alliance backed by the international coalition, began to push towards Manbij, sending 20,000 residents fleeing for safer areas.
ISIL abducted about 900 civilians, most of whom ethnic Kurds, during the battles for Manbij, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported June 24th.
Of this number, 350 were transported to the city of al-Raqa, 13 were executed, and five were killed as they attempted to escape, the Observatory said.
"Since the start of the military campaign to liberate Manbij, ISIL has intensified its oppressive practices towards residents of al-Bab region, particularly ethnic Kurds," said Faisal al-Ahmad, a media activist from Aleppo.
The group began to pursue and detain Kurds, he told Al-Shorfa, meting out punishments in public squares ranging from floggings to executions.
As the SDF drew closer to Manbij in early June, al-Ahmad said, ISIL started to detain young men, force them to bear arms and dispatch them to the front lines.
This was done to "give the impression that Kurds reject the Manbij Military Council (MMC), the SDF and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) and prefer to live under the banner of ISIL", he said.
On June 23rd, ISIL stormed into villages around al-Bab, where its fighters rounded up and detained around 1,000 ethnic Kurds, including women and children, and transported them to the group's prisons in the region.
The group also built new cells in several locations in al-Bab, he said.
"This clearly shows that Kurdish civilians are being used as human shields to protect [ISIL's] military positions and elements from airstrikes against them," al-Ahmad said.
Civilians face difficult conditions
"Syrian citizens in al-Bab region, who number about 250,000, are living in very tragic conditions," said MMC platoon commander Ghassan Ibrahim. "They are ethnic Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans and Circassian, but the majority are Kurds."
They are scattered across 117 towns and villages, all of which are under ISIL's control, he told Al-Shorfa, adding that most of them are poor families who depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
Area villages are being "barbarically stormed by ISIL", he said, with ISIL elements raiding homes, confiscating all means of communication, including telephones and computers, and taking the youth to unknown locations.
Some villages tried to resist the group, he said, including Arab Weiran, whose youth refused to join ISIL and take up arms.
In response, "ISIL's elements [began] to open fire randomly, killing of dozens of civilians and leaving a number of others with various injuries", Ibrahim said.
The group also killed eight youth from the village of Qaar Kalbein and six others in the village of Um Housh for the same reason, he added.
A new wave of displacement
ISIL's criminal acts against the people of rural al-Bab sparked a massive wave of displacement towards safer areas controlled by the SDF and MMC, said Azad Dudeki of the Kurdish Red Crescent team operating in the Afrin canton.
Some headed for Afrin, which is outside the group’s control, he said, adding that "dozens of families have arrived in safe areas but are still out in the open, relatively far from populated areas, and are living under very difficult conditions".
Their suffering is compounded by the "deteriorating mental state of family members from what they went through", he told Al-Shorfa.
Many families are still out in the open because the villages and towns are overflowing with internally displaced persons, he said, "so they have no choice but stay in tents on the agricultural plains".
"Many families have said that some of their members are missing and contact with them was lost during the escape," Dudeki said, adding that the families fear they have fallen into the hands of ISIL and may have been executed.
At least 20,000 residents of rural al-Bab fled their villages, he estimated, noting that Kurdish Red Crescent teams, with aid organisations in the region, are co-ordinating with military groups to ensure they do not come under fire.
These groups are working to transport fleeing residents safely to areas outside ISIL’s control and provide them with urgent support and assistance, he said.