Unknown gunmen abducted and killed nine policemen in southern Syria in a rare attack on a government building in the defeated cradle of the nine-year uprising.
State news agency SANA quoted the interior ministry as saying the nine policemen were killed “after a terrorist group attacked them as they were performing their job”, using the government’s term for rebels and fighters.
The killings occurred in a town called Muzayrib in Daraa province, the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“Unknown assailants attacked the municipality building … abducting nine members of the security forces before shooting them dead and abandoning their bodies in a square,” Syrian Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The province, which was retaken by regime forces from rebels in 2018, is a common site of attacks, usually targeting loyalists and civilians working for the state.
But the nature of Monday’s incident and high toll is unusual.
“Usually, attacks against regime forces target checkpoints or patrols, not government buildings,” Abdel Rahman said.
Daraa is considered to be the birthplace of the popular uprising that erupted across Syria in 2011, before spiralling into a full-blown conflict.
After its recapture by Russia-backed government fighters in 2018, state institutions returned, but the army is still not deployed in the whole province, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources in Syria.
Many former rebels stayed instead of evacuating under a Moscow-brokered deal, either joining the army or remaining in control of parts of the province and some neighbourhoods of the provincial capital, also called Daraa.
The armed group ISIL (ISIS) has in the past claimed attacks in the area. In July it said it killed six soldiers at a checkpoint.
Sleeper cells have recently increased attacks in eastern Syria. Last month the group claimed responsibility for the killing of two Syrian army officers in the same province.
The group lost the last scrap of its territorial “caliphate” a year ago, but retains a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert.
The civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions from their homes since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of government protests.