BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen have ambushed a bus carrying Syrian soldiers in the country’s east, killing at least 20 and wounding others, opposition activists said Friday.
The Thursday night attack was believed to be carried out by members of the Islamic State group whose sleeper cells in parts of Syria still carry deadly attacks despite their defeat in 2019.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 Syrian soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded in the attack on a desert road near the eastern town of Mayadeen in Deir el-Zour province that borders Iraq.
Another activist collective that covers news in eastern Syria said 20 soldiers were killed and others were wounded.
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying that the attack occurred Thursday night, “killing and wounding a number of soldiers.” It gave no further details, nor a breakdown in the casualty numbers.
IS controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq where they declared a caliphate in June 2014. Over the years they lost of the land and were defeated in Iraq in 2017 and two years later in Syria.
In one of their deadliest in a year, IS sleeper cells attacked workers collecting truffles near the central town of Sukhna in February, killing at least 53 people — mostly workers but also some Syrian government security forces.
Experts who follow Jihadi groups say it is too early to say if the new spate of attacks marks a new resurgence by the extremists that ruled millions of people in Syria and Iraq with terror.
Last week, IS announced the death in Syria of its little-known leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi — who headed the extremist organization since November — and named his successor. He was the fourth to be killed since its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in 2019 by U.S. troops in northwest Syria.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.