By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Islamic State militants recently seized about 700 hostages in a part of Syria controlled by U.S.-backed forces, and are carrying out executions — a claim questioned by the Pentagon.
At an international policy forum in Sochi on October 18, Putin said the hostages include several Americans and Europeans, and claimed that IS is expanding its territory on the left bank of the Euphrates River, currently controlled by the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces.
Putin did not specify what the militants’ demands were, but said “they took about 130 families hostage, which accounts for about 700 people.”
He said the militants have warned that they would kill 10 people a day if their demands are not met.
“They have issued ultimatums, specific demands, and warned that if these ultimatums are not met. they will execute 10 people every day. The day before yesterday they executed 10 people,” he said.
“They are now carrying out their threats. It’s horrible,” he said.
Russian state-run news agency TASS on October 17 cited an unnamed “diplomatic-military source” as saying the hostages were seized in a raid on a refugee camp in Syria’s Deir-al Zor province on October 13 and the militants were demanding the release of detained IS members.
In Washington, the Pentagon cast doubt on Putin’s claims.
“While we have confirmed that there was an attack on an [internally displaced persons] camp near [Deir-al Zor] last week, we have no information supporting the large number of hostages alleged by President Putin, and we are skeptical of its accuracy,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
“We are also unaware of any U.S. nationals located in that camp,” Robertson said.