Militias operating in Syria have declared victory over Islamic State, or IS fighters in Raqqa.
The militias raised flags over the city on Tuesday after a four-month battle against IS forces. Raqqa served as capital of the self-declared Islamic State militant group.
The Reuters news agency said the fighting had ended, but noted that Kurdish and Arab militias were clearing a sports center of mines and any remaining militants. A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said his group plans to formally declare victory after the work is completed.
The SDF has been fighting since June to take Raqqa. The militia has received help from the United States and its allies.
The final SDF attack on Raqqa began on Sunday after a group of Syrian jihadists withdrew, leaving only 300 IS fighters to defend their positions.
On Monday, the SDF captured “Paradise Square,” a place where the militants carried out executions in front of city residents. Some locals called it “Hell Square” as bodies and severed heads would be left there for days.
The fighters captured Raqqa’s main hospital after fierce fighting Monday night and early on Tuesday, said SDF spokesman Mostafa Bali in a statement. The fighters then lowered the black flag of Islamic State at the hospital, the site of an IS command center.
One witness told Reuters that militia fighters and commanders celebrated in the middle of wreckage and ruined buildings around the square.
An SDF field commander said explosions from mines killed three militiamen on Monday. Another commander said SDF fighters had found burned weapons and documents in the sports center.
The fall of Raqqa is a sign of the Islamic State’s collapse. It was the first big city captured by IS forces in early 2014. After a series of victories in Iraq and Syria, the group declared the establishment of a caliphate, with Raqqa as its capital.
The Islamic State created its own laws, passports and money. It used the city as a base to plan attacks overseas and to imprison Western hostages before killing them in videos published online.
The group has lost most of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including the city of Mosul. In Syria, IS forces have been forced back into small areas in the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.
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Words in This Story
formally - adj. made or done in an official and usually public way
jihadist - n. a Muslim who advocates or participates in a jihad
resident - n. someone who lives in a particular place
sever - v. to cut off
site - n. a place that is used for a particular activity
caliphate - n. the land ruled by a caliph (a Muslim political and religious leader)