An al-Qaeda front group fighting in Syria on Wednesday overran the northern town of Azaz near the border with Turkey after fierce clashes with formerly allied rebels, activists told AFP.
“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has seized complete control of Azaz. They are in control of the town’s entrances,” said an activist in the town who goes by Abu Ahmad.
Another activist, a resident of the border town, confirmed the report.
“ISIS are in full control. They are detaining people from their homes, and they are manning all the checkpoints,” he told AFP via the Internet, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The development in Azaz comes amid increasing reports of fighting in northern Syria between ISIS and less radical Islamist rebels vying to bring down President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
In a sign that Syria’s conflict has grown highly localized in recent months, ISIS has fought side by side with rebels against government troops in other areas of the country.
In Azaz, reports emerged of continuing clashes.
Abu Ahmad said that after seizing the town, ISIS fighters were “on their way to the (nearby) Bab al-Salameh” border crossing with Turkey.
Bab al-Salameh has for months been under control of local rebels, chiefly the Northern Storm brigade which was behind the brief detention of former Al-Akhbar journalist Fidaa Itani last October.
News of the reported seizure of Azaz came after a battle lasting several hours between Northern Storm fighters and ISIS.
Among those reported killed in the clashes was Omar Diab, a media activist from Azaz.
Better known by his pseudonym Hazem al-Azizi, Diab’s killing triggered an outpouring of anger against ISIS on activists’ online platforms.
The Northern Storm brigade meanwhile issued an online statement calling on other rebel groups nearby to “move directly towards Azaz, to protect the town and free it from ISIS.”