Reports Saturday from northern Syria said Islamic State extremists had executed 19 civilians, including two children, after kidnapping them from a village thought to be under the control of U.S.-backed anti-jihadist fighters.

Details were sketchy, and there was no comment on the killings from U.S. officials. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors warfare in the country, said the killings occurred Friday between Raqqa, the IS extremists’ de facto capital, and Deir Ezzor.

The observatory report said IS fighters also captured three anti-jihadist fighters in the raid. Their fate was unknown Saturday, but a photograph appeared to show them about to be executed. They were seated in the desert with their hands tied behind their backs, in civilian clothing. Three masked gunmen stood behind them, pointing weapons downward at the captives.

The photo had not been validated by late Saturday, but it closely resembled dozens of pictures of executions carried out by IS fighters in Syria and neighboring Iraq since 2014.

Islamic State has attacked villages in the vast region between Raqqa and the Euphrates River city of Deir Ezzor as U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters have pushed the extremists slowly eastward, toward the Iraq border. A separate Syrian government force backed by Russia is also reported in the area.

Tactical shift

Friday’s mayhem came on the same day that a top U.S. official disclosed a tactical shift in the fight against Islamic State had been ordered by President Donald Trump.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said anti-jihadist forces under U.S. control had been directed to surround extremist fighters and “annihilate” them, rather than letting them flee the region largely intact.

The new policy of encircling and destroying IS units aims to ensure that foreigners fighting for the Islamic State group cannot return to their home countries, Mattis told reporters in Washington, “so we don’t simply transplant this problem from one location to another.”

Foreign fighters now in Syria are a strategic threat, “should they return home to Tunis, to Kuala Lumpur, to Paris, to Detroit — wherever,” Mattis said.

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