BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State group militants attacked a Ramadan gathering hosted by a former official of a U.S.-backed group in eastern Syria, killing seven people and wounding four, opposition activists said Thursday.
The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday night in the Abu Khashab area in Deir el-Zour province. IS targeted the home of a former spokesman with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Euphrates Post news website.
The Euphrates Post website said the gunmen arrived on motorcycles and opened fire as the group was having an iftar — the fast-breaking meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — at the home of former SDF spokesman Nouri Hameesh, who was among those killed.
Three years after the Sunni extremist Islamic State group lost the last sliver of territory it controlled in Syria, its sleeper cells have stepped up attacks in recent months, mainly targeting the Kurdish-led SDF but also forces from the Syrian government.
The militant group’s self-styled caliphate at its height covered a third of both of Iraq and Syria. The ensuing war against IS lasted several years, killed thousands, and left large parts of the two neighboring countries in ruins.
In another development, President Bashar Assad named a new defense minister on Thursday, replacing Gen. Ali Ayoub who had held the post since 2018. State news agency SANA said Assad name Maj. Gen. Ali Mahmoud Abbas as the new defense minister.
The presidential decree published by SANA gave no reason for Ayoub’s removal or why Abbas was chosen as the new defense minister.
Syria’s civil war, which began in March 2011, has waned down recently after Syrian government forces gained control of much of the country with the help of Assad’s allies Russia and Iran.