Fighters from an al-Qaeda-linked group expelled rival opposition militants from a northern Syrian town after heavy clashes Monday, then quickly moved to eliminate any pockets of resistance by setting up checkpoints on major roads and conducting house-to-house raids in search of opponents.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's seizure of the town of al-Bab is part of a brutal battle between the al-Qaeda-affiliated group and militants from Islamist factions that has raged across opposition-held territory in northern Syria for the past 11 days. The militant-on-militant clashes are the most serious since the Syrian crisis began, and have further muddied an already complicated conflict less than two weeks ahead of a planned international peace conference for Syria in Switzerland.
The pace and scale of the militant war-within-a-war has eclipsed even that of the opposition's fight with at least 700 people killed since the infighting began Jan. 3, according to the Britain-based opposition observatory. Many civilians have welcomed the fight against the "Islamic State" which alienated large chunks of the public with brutal tactics such as kidnappings, extortion and beheadings as it sought to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The Observatory said that militants from the "Islamic State" captured al-Bab on Monday morning and quickly moved to solidify their grip on the town northeast of the city of Aleppo .
The Observatory said fighters from the extremist group used mosque loudspeakers to call on people to hand over their weapons, and told residents that they came to apply Islamic law. At the same time, the group also set up checkpoints on roads into and out of the city, and its gunmen were scrutinizing the IDs of travelers passing through.
The infighting has been ruthless, and there have been several reported mass killings of detainees, including last week at a hospital in Aleppo.
The latest reported case is in the adjacent province of Raqqa, where the "Islamic State" killed at least 46 militants from a rival ultraconservative Islamist brigade known as Ahrar al-Sham. The killings occurred near the village of Kantari about 80 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Raqqa city.
On Sunday, Ahrar al-Sham on its official Twitter account accused the "Islamic State" of killing some 100 Ahrar detainees in Raqqa.