At least 18 villagers collecting truffles killed by militants in eastern Syria

A Syrian vendor displays truffles at a market in Aleppo on February 28, 2024.
A Syrian vendor displays truffles at a market in Aleppo on Feb. 28, 2024.
(AFP / Getty Images)

Islamic State militants attacked villagers collecting truffles in eastern Syria on Wednesday, killing at least 18 people and leaving dozens injured and missing, opposition activists and pro-government media said.

The attack against the truffle hunters was one of the deadliest strikes by the Islamic State group in the area in more than a year. It took place in a desert area near the town of Kobajeb in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq. Some of the truffle gatherers may have been kidnapped, opposition activists said.

Despite the militant group’s defeat in Syria in March 2019, IS sleeper cells still carry out deadly attacks across a wide swath of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq where the extremists had once run an Islamic caliphate.


Since truffle hunters work in large groups in remote areas, IS militants in previous years have repeatedly preyed on them, emerging from the desert to kill many and abduct others to be ransomed for money.

A drone attack on a base housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria killed six allied Kurdish fighters late Sunday.

Feb. 5, 2024

Separately, in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, an Al Qaeda-linked group released more than 400 detainees from its jails after days of protests demanding their freedom.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said that the attack Wednesday in Deir el-Zour left 18 people dead and 16 wounded. It said about 50 people were missing and might have been kidnapped by IS. Twelve vehicles were torched.

The Syrian Observatory said the dead included four members of the pro-government National Defense Forces, which had sent reinforcements to the area.

The pro-government Dama Post media outlet said the death toll was as high as 44 and that some 13 vehicles used by the truffle farmers were set afire and destroyed.

The disparate casualty figures could not be immediately reconciled. Different death tolls in Syria are not uncommon in the immediate aftermath of deadly attacks.


The Islamic State group claims responsibility for suicide bombings targeting a commemoration for an Iranian general slain in a 2020 U.S. drone strike.

Jan. 4, 2024

The truffles are a seasonal delicacy that can be sold for a high price, and many in Syria, where 90% of the population lives below the poverty line, go out into the countryside to collect them.

In February 2023, IS militants killed dozens of civilians and security officers in an attack on truffle hunters in the deserts of central Syria.

In Syria’s Idlib province, the recent death of a member of a rebel faction, allegedly while being tortured in a jail run by the Al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, or HTS, has sparked days of protests in various parts of the province.

Protesters have demanded the release of prisoners, including during a rally Tuesday night at an HTS jail in the town of Daret Azzeh that drew warning gunfire from HTS fighters, further angering protesters. The protesters also have demanded the resignation of HTS head Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

U.S. fighter jets launched airstrikes early Friday on two locations in eastern Syria linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Pentagon says.

Oct. 27, 2023

Golani responded with concessions, including the release Wednesday of 420 detainees from HTS jails, according to several opposition activists, including the Syrian Observatory.

Anti-HTS sentiments had been rising since a wave of arrests by the group of senior officials within the organization, which was previously known as Nusra Front before changing its name several times and distancing itself from Al Qaeda.


In August, the group announced that its co-founder and top official, Maysara al-Jubouri, better known as Abu Maria al-Qahtani, was arrested over misuse of social media. Al-Jubouri, an Iraqi citizen, had been a longtime Al Qaeda official who fought against U.S. forces in Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

In 2011, he was one of several Al Qaeda officials who moved to Syria, months after the country’s ongoing deadly conflict began. There have been reports that al-Jubouri will be released soon.

In the weeks that followed al-Jubouri’s arrest, dozens of HTS officials and members of other factions allied with them were detained and allegedly tortured in jails run by al-Golani loyalists for allegedly giving intelligence information to the U.S.-led coalition that has, over the years, killed top Al Qaeda commanders in drone strikes in different parts of Syria.

Al-Sayed reported from Idlib and Mroue from Beirut.