Fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have reportedly begun what is being hailed as the “final assault” on Islamic State (IS) forces in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province.
CNN reports that the last group of IS fighters is “holed up in the village of Baghouz Al-Fawqani, near the Iraqi border”, and that the SDF has launched an attack on the remaining four square kilometre stronghold of the militant group.
The SDF had paused for about a week to allow civilians in the village to flee before the fighting began, with US-led coalition aircraft pounding the village with airstrikes early on Sunday morning.
At least 500 IS militants are believed to be in the village, where they are reportedly holding a number of western hostages, including British journalist John Cantlie, who was captured in 2012.
SDF commanders say that the militants have dug a network of tunnels beneath the village, allowing them to move from house to house undetected, and that IS fighters have put up a fierce resistance, using heat-seeking missiles.
News of the final battle comes just days after it emerged that a coup attempt was made by foreign fighters against IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
A witness to the coup attempt told The Guardian that foreign members of the terror group turned on their leader, waging a two-day battle with his bodyguards in September last year.
“The fighting was very intense, they had tunnels between houses. They were mainly Tunisians and there were many people killed,” Jumah Hamdi Hamdan said.
IS has reportedly placed a bounty on the head of the leader of the coup attempt, Abu Muath al-Jazairi, who is believed to be a veteran foreign fighter. The current whereabouts of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is unknown.