BEIRUT: Militants from the Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS have taken over the town of Markada in Hassakeh province in fighting with the Nusra Front and other Islamist militias, according to pro-opposition media and an activist group. The reports said that a local commander of ISIS, a Turkish national, was killed in the fighting, which claimed the lives of five ISIS fighters and approximately 40 Nusra Front members.
The town lies on the highway linking the cities of Hassakeh and Deir al-Zor.
ISIS is engaged in fighting against the Nusra Front and its allies, as well as a separate campaign against the YPG Kurdish militia.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that it could confirm at least 16 ISIS fatalities in the infighting, while the other side’s losses remained undetermined.
Also in Hassakeh province, the Kurdish YPG wrested control of a village, Jazaa, from ISIS, which suffered at least 14 fatalities during three days of fighting.
In Raqqa province to the east, where ISIS enjoys its strongest presence in the country, the Observatory said the group alerted residents via minarets in the town of Raqqa to “open their windows and open up closed places” as the group was planning to carry out the second stage of the demolition of a local shrine.
ISIS last week detonated explosives at the Uwais al-Qarani shrine, a Yemen-born ally of Imam Ali who was killed at the battle of Siffin.
Qarani’s tomb has served as a pilgrimage site for Shiites from several countries in the region.
ISIS militants are ultraconservatives who believe that any kind of memorial constitutes a form of idol-worship, and have carried out a campaign of destroying shrines and other sites they deem objectionable in various parts of Syria.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 31, 2014, on page 8.