IS militants caught fleeing Syrian enclave

US-backed forces say they captured 157 mostly foreign fighters fleeing Baghouz.
US-backed forces say they captured 157 mostly foreign fighters fleeing Baghouz.

US-backed fighters besieging the last shred of Islamic State territory in eastern Syria say they captured 157 mostly foreign fighters as they tracked efforts by jihadis to escape the enclave.

"Our units monitored a group of terrorists, trailed them and captured 157 fully militarily equipped terrorists," the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia said in a statement.

The captured jihadists were "mostly foreign nationals" said Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF's media office, on Twitter. Neither he nor the SDF statement said when the capture took place.

Both the SDF and the US-led coalition that backs it have said the remaining Islamic State militants inside the Baghouz pocket are among its most hardened foreign operatives.

Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have poured out of the group's dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Islamic State, including some 5,000 fighters.

However, while the capture of Baghouz will mark a milestone in the battle against Islamic State, regional and Western officials say the group will remain a threat.

On Monday night Islamic State released an audio recording of its spokesman, Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer, saying the group would stay strong.

"Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Islamic State? No," he said.

Australian Associated Press