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IS executes respected Syrian poet and son for 'apostasy'

Activists in Deir Ezzor, the eastern town partly besieged by IS, say residents are regularly executed for apostasy or spying
Mohammed Bashir al-Aani, an opponent of President Assad, was known for his lyrical poetic style (Facebook)

Islamic State militants executed a prominent Syrian poet along with his son this week, family members have said.

Mohammed Bashir al-Aani and his son Elyas were arrested in the eastern town of Deir Ezzor seven months ago and taken to an unknown location, thought to be an IS prison in the area, according to local news site Deir Ezzor 24.

Militants executed the 56-year-old and his son on Thursday on charges of “apostasy,” the men's relatives told the site.

The pair were originally detained along with around 100 others when they attempted to leave an area of the city that was besieged by IS forces. 

Aani had returned to the area with his son to bury his wife, who had died in Damascus after the family travelled to the capital to get better medical treatment for her. 

Little is known about the poet's son, but photos circulated by activists show a young man in his early 20s.

The older Aani – who was noted for his opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad – had published three volumes of poetry, and was known for his lyrical style.

His last published poem, The Banishment of the Loser, spoke of “long exhaustion,” and ended with the line, “I am the one who will trade tranquillity for defeat.”

A friend of the family, journalist Wael Sawah, paid tribute to the poet on Facebook, sending condolences to the men's relatives and friends in Deir Ezzor. “The new Nazis of IS have killed Bashir al-Aani – but they won't kill poetry.”

Local activists say IS – which holds large areas of Deir Ezzor under siege – has executed large numbers of civilians, mostly on charges of apostasy or spying.

Aani is the most high-profile cultural figure known to have been executed by IS in Syria in 2016. 

There was outcry last December when militants from the group assassinated respected journalist Naji Jerf, who had come to be nicknamed “Uncle” due to his work training young Syrian reporters.

Jerf had been living in Turkey documenting IS crimes, an had just obtained a visa to travel to France for medical treatment when he was shot dead with a silenced handgun.

Earlier in 2015, the cartooning community was rocked by confirmation that Akram Raslan, known as “one of Syria's bravest cartoonists,” had been tortured to death in a government prison following his arrest in 2012.