Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria have carried out execution-style killings against 72 people within the last 50 days, a monitoring group says.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on February 20 it had been able to document the killings of 103 people, including four women, by Islamist factions around Syria since the start of the year. Seventy-two of the killings were attributed to the IS group and the rest to a variety of different factions including Jabhat al-Nusra.
A Shari'a court in the town of Haritan in Aleppo Province, which is linked to a Chechen-led Islamist faction, was responsible for six of the execution-style killings not attributed to the IS group.
The 72 documented execution-style killings by IS were carried out for "offenses" such as banditry, homosexuality, insulting God, embezzlement, raping a child, spying for the "Crusader alliance" (the militants' term for the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition), insulting the Prophet Muhammad, betraying IS militants, "dealing with the infidel regime" (a reference to the Syrian government), smuggling cigarettes and alcohol, fighting against the IS group and being from the Ismaili sect, a branch of Shi'ite Islam.
The victims of the killings include Syrians as well as foreign fighters, including two Russian-speaking men, one of whom claimed to be an ethnic Kazakh. The Russian-speaking men were apparently shot dead by a child militant, who also appeared to be an ethnic Kazakh, after being accused of espionage on behalf of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
Militants carried out the killings using a number of methods, usually in public squares in front of dozens of witnesses, including children. In some cases, the victims were made to wear orange robes, SOHR said. Victims were thrown from high buildings, tortured, shot, crucified (some victims were shot and then crucified), stoned, and beheaded.
The most recent execution-style killing documented by SOHR took place on February 18, when a man was shot and then his body crucified for banditry. The killing took place south of Qamishli in Hasakah Province in northeastern Syria.
One of the grisliest of the documented killings was the January 27 public beheading in Hasakah for "insulting God." According to SOHR, the victim was beheaded in front of a large crowd of people, including children, some of whom filmed the killing on their phones. The victim was not blindfolded but was forced to the ground face down and decapitated.
One of the victims, who was beheaded in the town of Manbij on February 8, was an elderly man whose "crime" was "insulting the Prophet Muhammad."
While the majority of the killings documented by SOHR were carried out by the IS group, 31 of the execution-style killings were carried out by other groups including Jabhat al-Nusra.
Unlike IS, which favored beheadings and crucifixions, these groups mostly killed people by shooting.
However, Jabhat al-Nusra was documented as being responsible for torturing to death two people in jails run by the group -- a man from Idlib who died on February 1 and a rebel commander from Sarmada in Idlib who died on February 7.
According to SOHR, it was not only IS militants who killed men accused of homosexuality. The watchdog documented the killing of a young man in the Al-Sha'ar neighborhood in Aleppo by the Abu Amara Battalions and a local Shari'a court. The victim was reportedly thrown to his death from the roof of a hospital.
The Abu Amara Battalions is an Aleppo-based Syrian rebel group that has fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra; one of its fighters said in 2013 that he did not oppose establishing Islamic law in Syria but that the group preferred to introduce it by popular assent.
Six of the execution-style killings were carried out by the judiciary in the northern Aleppo town of Haritan. The victims were accused of being members of a pro-Assad cell who were giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's air force information about rebel coordinates.
The execution-style killings were reported by the Chechen-led group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, who said on their website that Jabhat al-Nusra had arrested the men, who were killed after the local Shari'a court said they should be executed.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk