IS claims Damascus attack, capture of Russian soldiers

October 3, 2017
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows damage after a suicide car bomber struck a police station in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. The Al-Ikhbariyeh TV station said one bomber detonated his vehicle in front of the police station and another one managed to enter the station in the capital's al-Midan neighborhood. (SANA via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed a pair of suicide bombings in Damascus that killed 17 civilians and policemen, and released a video purporting to show two Russian soldiers the extremists claim to have captured in fighting in eastern Syria.

The extremist group is trying to rally supporters after months of battlefield setbacks in Syria and Iraq, including the loss of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in July.

The U.S.-led coalition and allied Syrian forces say they are in the final stages of driving IS from Raqqa, once the de facto capital of the group’s self-styled caliphate. On Tuesday, Syrian activists said airstrikes hit the last water wells operating in the city, killing over a dozen civilians.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 civilians were killed, while Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, another activist-run group, put the death toll at 21. There was no immediate comment from the coalition.

In the IS video, circulated on social media, one of the prisoners identifies himself and says he and his colleague, who appears badly beaten, were captured near al-Shula during an IS counteroffensive. The speaker does not say when they were captured.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says no Russian servicemen have been captured in Syria. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the video or confirm the identities of the individuals shown in it.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose troops have been advancing in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, where al-Shula is located, against IS under the cover of Russian airstrikes since early September.

The jihadists launched a fierce attack on al-Shula last week, briefly cutting off a major highway and sparking a two-day battle. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said the fighting killed 120 Syrian troops, Hezbollah fighters and other pro-government gunmen.

In Monday’s attack in the Syrian capital, two men stormed a police station in the al-Midan neighborhood before one of them blew himself up, according to Syria’s interior minister, Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Shaar. He said the other bomber made it inside the compound, where police killed him, causing his bomb to explode.

The IS-run Aamaq news agency said the militant group carried out the attack, without providing further details.

The Syrian government is at war with the IS group as well as a local al-Qaida affiliate and an array of rebel groups trying to oust Assad. The military has been steadily claiming territory from IS in central and eastern Syria recently.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement early Tuesday that its airstrikes just outside Deir el-Zour city killed more than 300 IS fighters and wounded more than 200 on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. The ministry said the airstrikes also destroyed an IS training center, as well artillery positions, tanks and ammunition depots.

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