Thousands of evacuees have been pouring out of the small village of Baghouz in Syria, the last remnant of the "Islamic State" (IS) caliphate. Many of the evacuated IS women remained defiant, praising the extremist group.
About 400 "Islamic State" (IS) fighters were captured while trying to escape the besieged town of Baghouz in eastern Syria, a senior commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-IS Kurdish-led militia, told reporters on Wednesday.
The jihadists enlisted the help of people smugglers, said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous.
Hundreds more militants surrendered on Wednesday, although the exact number was not immediately clear. The fighters, with women and children, made up around 2,000 people who left the village during the day.
The SDF was waiting for all evacuees to leave before storming Baghouz, the last populated area still controlled by the once immense extremist caliphate. The site is defended by die-hard fighters holed up in tunnels and caves.
"There are a large number of fighters who are inside and do not want to surrender," said the senior SDF commander.
Many of the fighters leaving the village had been wounded in an intense bombardment by SDF artillery and coalition warplanes during the weekend.
Heading to al-Hol
Wives of IS fighters and their children made up the bulk of the evacuees, with the SDF struggling to allocate the unexpectedly large number of people pouring out of Baghouz. Most of them were directed to the overcrowded al-Hol displacement camp in northeast Syria. The camp's population has swelled from 10,000 up to 60,000 since December, according the International Rescue Committee aid group.
Many of the IS wives shouted and cursed at the SDF fighters and journalists while awaiting transport to the camp. A group of black-clad, fully veiled women chanted "Islamic State will stay" while pointing at the sky.
Husband still under siege
A 30-year-old Iraqi woman told the AP news agency that she only left the village because her 1-month-old baby was sick. Her child died overnight in the reception area from the cold.
"I didn't want to leave except to treat her," said the woman who identified herself as Um Fatima. She cursed the SDF and said: "The Islamic State will remain and expand, God willing," before walking away.
Another 30-year-old woman, who said her name was Loubna, said her husband was still in Baghouz and was prepared to blow himself up.
"They have their planes," she told the agency. "We have God's help."
She also said she would raise her five children to become jihadis.
While the defeat in Baghouz would spell the virtual end of the caliphate, some IS fighters remain active in remote hideouts. Parallel to the Baghouz battle, the Syrian military was conducting airstrikes against the militants hiding in the country's central desert region.
dj/se (AP, Reuters, AFP)