6 Oct 2014

Islamic State moves to take Kobani on Syria-Turkey border

More than 2,000 Syrian Kurds are evacuating the Kurdish town of Kobani, near the border between Syria and Turkey, as Islamic State militants advance towards the city centre.

“We can hear the sound of clashes in the street,” Parwer Ali Mohamed, a translator for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) said over the phone, en route to Turkey.

The IS group is trying to seize the predominantly Kurdish border town of Kobani and has ramped up its offensive in recent days despite being targeted by US-led coalition led air strikes aimed at halting its progress.

IS flag

Militants raised their flag on a building on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian border town of Kobani after an assault of almost three weeks, but the town’s Kurdish defenders said they had not reached the city centre on Monday.

A black flag belonging to IS was visible from across the Turkish border atop a four-storey building close to the scene of some of the most intense clashes in recent days. Video posted on social media showed a black flag planted on a hill near the town.

Channel 4 News was unable to independently verify the content of this video which was obtained from a social media website.

The radical Al-Qaeda offshoot has been battling to seize the predominantly Kurdish town after taking over large swathes of territory in northern Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on 22 September that more than 130,000 Kurdish refugees had crossed the Turkish border from Syria as they fled IS.

Above: IS flag on a hill in the Syrian town of Kobani (Getty Images)

Prisoner exchange

Earlier, it was reported that two Britons, Shabazz Suleman, 18, and Hisham Folkard, 26, are thought to be among up to 180 fighters reportedly returned to Islamic State by Turkey in return for Turkish consular staff captured when IS stormed the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June.

The Britons’ names were on a leaked list passed to the Times newspaper. The list is said to include the names of citizens from other European countries, including three from France, two from Sweden, two from Macedonia, and one from Switzerland and Belgium.

However, there has been no confirmation that the Britons were among the Turkey-held prisoners.

Humanitarian aid

Mr Suleman had been studying at the Royal Grammar School (RGS) in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire until May of this year, when he took study leave ahead of his A-levels. He has not been seen since.

RGS headmaster Roy Page said on 3 October that Mr Suleman had undertaken voluntary work in Syria last year.

“In the summer of 2013, Shabazz made a trip to Syria as a member of a convoy that delivered humanitarian aid to the people of Aleppo as part of a Turkish charity,” he said in a statement on the school website.

Counter-terrorism officers contacted the father of Hisham Folkard in August in connection with his brother, Omar, according to the Times. Omar Hisham is said to be known to the security services.

Plea to IS

In a separate development, the parents of Abdul-Rahman Kassig – formerly known as Peter – have released a film pleading with Islamic State to release their son (see above).

Mr Kassig, a US citizen, appeared in an IS video released last week showing the beheading of UK hostage Alan Henning. It ends with a threat to kill the American.

In the film, Ed Kassig, the hostage’s father, says his son was taken captive in Syria on 1 October 2013, where he was providing aid for refugees fleeing the country’s civil war through an organisation he founded.

The Kassigs also released a letter written by their son in June and sent while he was in captivity. In it he says: “I am obviously pretty scared to die but the hardest part is not knowing, wondering, hoping and wondering if I should even hope at all.”

Abuld-Rahman Kassig is thought to have converted to Islam while in captivity. In a statement, his parents say they understand he became a Muslim voluntarily late last year while sharing a cell with a devout Muslim.