MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to hear now about Sweida in southern Syria, where people have spent the weekend mourning the victims of a recent ISIS attack. Hundreds of people died in a coordinated assault. The attack shows that while ISIS has lost most of its territory in Syria, it has not been defeated. We have a warning now that some of the descriptions of the attack may be disturbing to some listeners NPR's Ruth Sherlock has the story.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking in foreign language).
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: The ISIS hostage video shows an older woman wrapped in a white shroud. She exposes only her face, which is twisted with fear as she appeals for her life. Behind her, in the darkness, you can see outlines of dozens of other captives, all of them women and children. The video is reminiscent of the appeals ISIS forced its American and British hostages to make before their executions. Those videos were designed to spread fear around the world. These days, though, the jihadists are reduced to using these hostages for land swaps in Syria. The women captives are the victims of an attack on the villages and city of Sweida province that residents say also took more than 200 lives.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking in foreign language).
SHERLOCK: At a funeral procession, the residents come out in their thousands. Hussein Maklad lost 21 members of his family in the attack. On a poor phone line, he rages against ISIS.
HUSSEIN MAKLAD: They don't know humanity. They are unhuman. They kill children. They kill women. All these are innocent people. They are children. They are grandmothers and grandfathers.
SHERLOCK: He says the Jihadists arrived in his village at dawn. They knocked softly on doors and called out the names of those in the houses as if they were neighbors, but when they entered, they killed everyone inside. Maklad said his 14-year-old cousin was forced to pick up a gun. He shot two ISIS fighters in a bid to save his mother and sister. The family survived.
KARAM MOUNTHER: (Speaking in foreign language).
SHERLOCK: Karam Mounther is one of the many local residents who rushed to defend the villages when word spread that they'd come under attack. He says his mother helped load ammunition and his gun into his car.
MOUNTHER: (Through interpreter) She told me to take care of myself. She refused to cry. But when I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw her wiping away tears. But she wasn't the only one.
SHERLOCK: When he arrived, he found a full-blown battle.
MOUNTHER: (Speaking in foreign language).
SHERLOCK: He says there were so many bodies scattered on the ground. An elderly woman lay injured on the ground outside. She screamed at him to help those in a house nearby.
MOUNTHER: (Through interpreter) I went inside the house. I saw a man lying injured on the floor. He said, the bathroom, the bathroom - and pointed with his hand. I could hear the beating of my heart, and my throat became dry. When I opened the door, I saw a wife and two children lying in a bathtub. They'd been shot and killed. I could tell that the mother had tried to protect her children because her body lay over them.
SHERLOCK: ISIS took dozens of the women and children in the villages hostage. In exchange for their release, they demand that the Syrian regime stop attacking its last refuge south of the capital Damascus, the Yarmouk basin.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Allahu akbar.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Allahu akbar.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)
SHERLOCK: ISIS has lost control of Raqqa, the capital of its aspiring caliphate, and nearly all territory it once held. Now, the group has fragmented into smaller cells and adopted insurgent tactics. Videos show them in heated battle. They carry out elaborate assassination plots. They may not be as strong as they once were, but fragmented in this way, they are much harder to eradicate.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Allahu akbar.
SHERLOCK: Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.