Beirut, Jun 25: Islamic State militants abducted about 900 Kurdish civilians in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo over the past three weeks, forcing the captives to build fortifications for the extremists in retaliation for a Kurdish-led assault on a nearby IS stronghold, activists said. Reports also emerged today that at least 26 of those abducted have been killed for refusing to follow IS orders. Also Read - Islamophobia: Starbucks Sued by Muslim Woman For Writing 'ISIS' on Coffee Cup Instead of Her Name

The abductions come amid fierce fighting for control of Manbij a key IS stronghold in this Syrian province where the extremists are being routed from the town center by the predominantly Kurdish and US-backed Syria Democratic Forces. Some of the abducted Kurds have been pressganged into digging trenches and shelters for the IS, according to Kurdish media activist Rezan Hiddo, while others have been forced to wear IS uniforms and ordered to fight at the fronts. (ALSO READ: ISIS delighted with Brexit, calls for attacks in Europe’) Also Read - Coronavirus: ISIS Has an Advisory For Terrorists And it Says Avoid Europe

Today, the mostly Kurdish SDF battled IS militants inside Manbij after having encircling the stronghold in a weeks-long offensive that has been backed by US-coalition air strikes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported that coalition jets struck targets around the town. The SDF has lost 89 fighters since launching its campaign for Manbij on May 31, according to the Observatory. Also, 463 IS militants have been killed. Also Read - ‘Avoid Visiting Iraq,’ India Issues Fresh Travel Advisory as Security Situation Deteriorates There

The push by the SDF into Manbij has been slow as the US-backed fighters first focused on capturing dozens of villages and farms near the town in the past weeks. The town lies along the only IS supply line between the Syrian-Turkish border to the north and the IS extremist group’s self-styled capital of Raqqa, which lies to the southeast, in the IS-held neighboring province of Raqqa.

If Manbij is captured, it will be the biggest strategic defeat for IS in Syria since July 2015, when the extremist group lost the border town of Tal Abyad. The US has embedded 300 special forces operators with the SDF. The White House says they are advisers. French special forces operators are also embedded with the group.

SDF spokesman Sherfan Darwish told The Associated Press that the IS militants began abducting Kurdish civilians in retaliation the offensive on Manbij. “Whenever Daesh is defeated, they retaliate against civilians,” Darwish said, using an Arabic acronym for IS, adding that there are whole families among those taken.

The abductions have been taking place mostly in areas under IS control, from the western Manbij countryside to the towns of al-Bab and al-Rai, according to Hiddo. He said the ongoing campaign has prompted families to flee the towns in fear.