Islamic State group (IS) members and their families have been fleeing the group’s last sliver of territory in eastern Syria, as US-backed militia advance towards them.
Men, women and children, some with serious injuries, others describing running out of food, have been leaving the group’s rapidly shrinking enclave, which the US military on Tuesday said amounted to about 50 sq km (20 sq miles).
They have been arriving at the village of Baghuz to surrender to the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
On Wednesday US President Donald Trump said said territory held by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could be “100%” liberated as early as next week.
Many of those arriving in Baghuz have injuries, including those sustained from incoming strikes by the array of forces battling IS.
SDF commanders were negotiating with IS over a possible deal to free several SDF members held captive by IS and possibly give the militants safe passage to the province of Idlib in north-western Syria, which is not under Syrian government control, the New York Times reported.
Most of those emerging from the desert over the past two weeks have been IS militants’ wives and children, reports say. Once they have arrived they wait to be screened by the SDF before being told they will be taken to detention camps in northern Syria.
However, fighters themselves have also been fleeing. Germans Sabina (L) aged 34 and Leonora (R), 19 are two of the three wives of German jihadist Martin Lemke, who also fled and was detained by the SDF, his wives said. They arrived in Baghuz at the end of last month.
The fighters include Syrians, Iraqis who had earlier moved to IS strongholds in Syria as the US-backed Iraqi army retook IS-held territory in Iraq, and foreign fighters from European countries and elsewhere who travelled to the region to join the group.
Some are taken to detention camps, others to prison, the New York Times reported.
In the nearby town of Hajin, SDF fighters have found evidence of how IS administered it. Here they are seen examining an IS prison.
The town’s mayor Ali Jaber has found documents including this one urging residents to review their accounts with the local alms tax centre.
Some displaced Syrians have already begun returning to their homes in Hajin after it was retaken by the SDF last month, but much of the town was destroyed in the fighting.