BEIRUT — Islamic State militants beheaded a Lebanese soldier who was one of 19 captured by hardline Syrian Islamists when they seized a Lebanese border town for a few days this month, a video posted on social media showed on Saturday.
The soldier, recognized as Ali al-Sayyed, a Sunni Muslim from north Lebanon, was shown blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back, writhing and kicking the dusty ground while a militant announces he will be killed. Another militant then beheads him.
Islamic State, which declared a caliphate in June in parts of Iraq and Syria under its control, has been cited as a major security threat by Western governments since posting a video in August of the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.
The Lebanese army declined to comment, but security and Islamic State sources confirmed the latest beheading.
Hours later, the group posted a second video showing nine other soldiers begging for their lives, urging their families to take to the streets in the next three days to demand the release of Islamist prisoners as a condition to escape al-Sayyed’s fate.
Earlier this month, several Syrian groups, including Islamic State and Nusra Front battled the Lebanese army after the arrest of rebel commander Emad Gomaa in the border town of Arsal. Gomaa is a Nusra commander who switched affiliation to Islamic State but remained popular among Nusra fighters.
The militants seized Arsal for five days before withdrawing to a mountainous border region, taking the 19 captive soldiers with them.
Most of the soldiers were taken by Islamic State militants while Nusra kept a few soldiers and a number of policemen.
On Saturday, Nusra released four soldiers and a policeman, all Sunnis, a source close to the group said. The circumstances of their release were not immediately clear.
The militants have demanded the release of Gomaa and several Islamists jailed since a 2007 insurrection by an al-Qaida-inspired group at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon.
32 peacekeepers rescued from militants on Golan
Thirty-two U.N. peacekeepers were rescued on Saturday from Islamist militants who fired at their post on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and trapped them for two days, the United Nations said.
Another group of 40 Philippine U.N. peacekeepers remain trapped by Islamist militants who reinforced their siege on Saturday with fighters who arrived in more than 20 vehicles, U.N. diplomatic sources told Reuters.
“As we speak more rebels in more than 20 vehicles are approaching and reinforcing the siege around Position 68,” a diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.
The peacekeeping troops are part of UNDOF, a U.N. force that has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974, following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Earlier on Saturday, a Reuters cameraman spotted 11 U.N. armored vehicles returning to their base in Israeli-controlled territory about 12 hours after the peacekeepers came under fire at around 6 a.m.
“All 32 Filipino personnel from this position have been extricated and are now safe,” the United Nations press office said in a statement issued in New York.
“The U.N. peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position,” it said. Officials in the Philippines said a total of 72 soldiers had been trapped.
Separately, 44 UNDOF peacekeepers from Fiji were detained by militants 5 miles away from the Philippine troops on Thursday and remain missing.
Iraqi, Kurdish forces close in on ISIS
Iraqi army and Kurdish forces closed in on Islamic State fighters on Saturday in a push to break the Sunni militants’ siege of the Shiite town of Amerli, army sources said.
Two officers said Iraqi troops, militia and Kurdish peshmerga were advancing from four directions on the northern town, which has been surrounded by Islamic State forces for more than two months.
Separately on Saturday, a suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives killed at least 11 people in a town just south of Baghdad.
Armed residents of Amerli have managed to fend off attacks by the Islamic State fighters, who regard its majority Shiite Turkman population as apostates. More than 15,000 people remain trapped inside.
A major in the Iraqi army, who was advancing north towards Amerli from Udhaim, said progress was slow because the militants had mined the roads. He said they were around 9 miles from the town, while those approaching from the north were just 3 kilometers away.
The major said he had counted the corpses of more than 40 militants killed in Iraqi air strikes on the road between Udhaim and the village of Injana.
U.S. airstrikes target ISIS fighters
Also on Saturday, the Pentagon said U.S. warplanes and armed drones carried out five airstrikes on Islamic State fighters near Iraq’s largest dam, the latest in a series of attacks in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
The strikes destroyed an Islamic State armed vehicle, a fighting position and weapons and damaged a building near Mosul Dam, the Pentagon said. Backed by U.S. air power, Kurdish forces recaptured the strategic facility nearly two weeks ago.
Islamic State militants overran most of Sunni Arab Iraq after seizing the northern city of Mosul on June 10, and have proclaimed a caliphate straddling the border with Syria, where they also control vast swathes of territory.
The lightning offensive brought the militants within range of the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region earlier this month, prompting air strikes by the United States.
The Kurds have since been slowly regaining ground from the militants and on Saturday advanced on the northern town of Zumar.
Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat said control over Zumar would help the Kurds to retake Rabia and Sinjar, two other areas seized by Islamic State.
Violence in Iraq this year has reached levels not seen since 2006-2007 when the country was in the throes of civil war.
The suicide bombing took place at a checkpoint at a northern entrance to the town of Yusifiya, 15 kilometers from the capital, said a police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The suicide bomber drove into the checkpoint and blew up his car amongst vehicles waiting to be searched,” the officer said.