BEIRUT, Lebanon — Islamic State fighters abducted at least 170 workers from a cement factory northeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus, when the militant group attacked the area this week, activists and the Syrian government said on Thursday.
If confirmed, the kidnapping would punctuate the Islamic State’s penchant for brazen acts even in the face of recent defeats that have forced it to relinquish some territory seized in the five-year Syrian war. It remained unclear precisely how many people had been taken and where they were.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency gave the highest number, saying more than 300 people were abducted from Al-Badia Cement near the town of Dumair, 25 miles northeast of the capital, by militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. The news agency did not specify when the kidnapping had taken place. It said the Ministry of Industry had made contact with the management of the cement company and had been “informed that more than 300 workers and contractors were held by ISIS.”
The news agency also quoted a local official as saying that he had seen roughly 125 of the company’s workers aboard Islamic State vehicles headed toward Ghouta, a Damascus suburb.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a nongovernment group that monitors the Syria conflict from abroad through a network of contacts inside Syria, gave a similar account but lower numbers. It said that at least 170 workers were abducted by the Islamic State and taken to territory the group controls, adding that 140 others from another factory had escaped before the militants reached the area.
Civilians have often been caught among the warring parties in Syria’s war. Human rights groups have accused the government of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas to turn people against the rebels. In addition, the Islamic State has taken women as sex slaves and kidnapped civilians for ransom to help fund its operations.
The reported abductions come amid other battles between government forces and the Islamic State, which has been under increased military pressure from both an American-led aerial bombing campaign and from Syria’s Russian military allies. Last month, the Islamic State was forced to abandon the storied ancient city of Palmyra after a siege by Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes.
Those talks include only the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and some representatives of the rebels who seek to topple him. The Islamic State, and other terrorist groups in Syria, are not party to the talks.