U.S.-backed Syria force says ISIS holding 1,000 civilians

Islamic State militants are preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving a tiny area still held by the extremist group in a village in eastern Syria, a spokesperson for the U.S.-backed Syrian militia fighting the group says.

ISIS clinging to an area of less than a square kilometre in eastern Syria

Fighters of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab coalition of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) take a rest during an operation to expel ISIS jihadists from their last bastion, in Baghouz, Syria. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Islamic State militants are preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving a tiny area still held by the extremist group in a village in eastern Syria, a spokesperson for the U.S.-backed Syrian militia fighting the group said Sunday.

"Regrettably, Daesh have closed all the roads," Mustafa Bali, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told The Associated Press, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.

SDF officials have said the extremists are hiding among civilians in a small village reduced to a few dozen tents and using a network of caves and tunnels. ISIS, which once ruled a proto-state in large parts of Syria and Iraq, is clinging to an area of less than a square kilometre in the village of Baghouz, in eastern Syria.

The extremists may include high-level commanders, and could be holding hostages among those trapped inside.

'We will very soon bring good news'

Occasional coalition airstrikes and clashes continue inside the village of Baghouz. Artillery rounds were meant to clear land mines for the SDF fighters to advance. SDF commanders say the end of ISIS's self-declared caliphate is near.

"We will very soon bring good news to the whole world," Ciya Furat, an SDF commander, said Saturday at a news conference at the al-Omar Oil Field Base, miles away from Baghouz in the Deir el-Zour province.

The capture of the last pocket of territory held by ISIS in either Syria or Iraq would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group's so-called caliphate. At the height of their power in 2014, the extremists controlled nearly a third of both countries.

But experts and U.S. defence officials warn that the group still poses a major threat and could regroup within six months if pressure is not kept up.

U.S. wants foreign fighters put on trial

Thousands of ISIS fighters and their families have emerged from the last bastion held by the group in the past few months. The SDF is holding around 1,000 foreign fighters in lockups and camps in northern Syria, and their fate is a major concern, particularly as American troops prepare to withdraw from Syria.

The Kurds want their countries to take them back, and the U.S. has called on European countries to repatriate and put them on trial.

Trump repeated that call in a tweet Saturday.

An SDF fighter walks outside a mosque in a village recently retaken from Islamic State militants near Hajin, Syria, on Saturday. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

"The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The caliphate is ready to fall," Trump posted. He suggested the alternative would be that the U.S. would be forced to release them.

"We do so much, and spend so much — Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100 per cent caliphate victory!" he added.

Bali, the SDF spokesman, declined to comment on Trump's statement.