|Members of the Shaitat tribe celebrate after expelling the IS from their town|
As the extremist group known as the Islamic State (IS) consolidates its astonishing advances through Iraq and Syria, a tribe in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor province is leading an armed insurrection against the group.
Their rebellion appeared to be all but crushed when pictures surfaced last week showing the heads of the decapitated instigators, but over a week later the unrest that began in a handful of towns has spread through the key oil region, threatening a valuable chunk of the self-declared caliphate.
IS has controlled most of the province since July, following a months-long offensive to force out the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and an IS rival, after IS itself broke off from Al Qaeda earlier this year.
The territory it captured included the heartland of the 83,000-strong Shaitat tribe: the towns of Abu Hamam, Al-Kishkieh and Graniej. In exchange for peace, the tribe’s leaders agreed not to take up arms against IS, but that truce was shattered on July 30 when the jihadists arrested three Shaitat members in Kishkieh, allegedly for refusing to collect money to support the caliphate. Haian Dukhan, a doctoral student at the University of St. Andrews researching tribes in contemporary Syria, said the arrests violated fundamental tribal conventions, sparking the revolt. “It’s part of the clan traditions — taking revenge on those who would do harm to any of their members,” he said.
At least nine IS fighters were killed in the surprise rout, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-government monitoring group. Word quickly spread as videos emerged showing tribesmen riding motorbikes through the streets in celebration, withcaptured IS fighters in tow, and decrying the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The IS response was swift and brutal. It declared the tribal towns a “military zone,” and returned with reinforcements to round up and behead the men it claimed were responsible. Pictures later surfaced showing many bodies on crosses in a public square. One IS fighter wrote on Twitter: “We are not afraid to slaughter all of deir [al-Zor] and turn its ground red if required.”
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