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IS militants kill 115 in Syria gas field takeover

115 killed as IS militants seize the Shaar gas field, with most victims security guards and government forces
Islamic State fighters declared a caliphate last month and control large areas of Syria and Iraq (AFP)

Islamic State militants (IS) killed at least 115 Syrian government forces fighters, civilian security guards and employees on Thursday as they seized a gas field in Homs province, a monitoring group said on Friday, updating an earlier death toll.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described the takeover of the Shaar field as "the biggest" operation by the Islamic State (IS) since it emerged in the Syrian conflict last year.

“The number of people, most of them security guards and members of the [paramilitary] National Defence Forces, killed in the IS attack on the Shaar gas field in Homs province has risen to at least 115,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Earlier, the UK-based watchdog gave a toll of at least 90 killed.

Abdel Rahman told the AFP “25 of the killed were civilian employees”, adding “the rest were security guards deployed by the oil ministry and members of the National Defence Force”.

The government did not officially confirm the deaths, but supporters of President Bashar al-Assad posted photographs of the dead to social media, and branded their killings a “massacre”.

One pro-government Twitter user said: “30 martyrs were brought to Homs hospital from the Shaar gas field…Homs is still bleeding.”

Footage apparently shot by the militants at the gas field and distributed via YouTube showed dozens of bodies, some of them mutilated, strewn across the desert landscape.

One video shows an IS fighter posing with the bodies as he speaks in German interspersed with religious terms in Arabic, seemingly celebrating the killings.

The Observatory’s Abdel Rahman condemned the deaths.

“The Observatory condemns summary execution as a war crime, regardless of which side it is committed by in the Syrian conflict,” he told AFP.

“Summary execution is a war crime – whether of civilians or combatants. They are prisoners of war and must not be executed,” he added.

IS, which proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq last month, has also taken over Syria's oil-rich Deir Ezzor province.

Deir Ezzor borders Homs province as well as Iraq, where IS has spearheaded a major Sunni militant offensive that has seen large swathes of territory fall out of the Baghdad government's control.