The Islamic State also seized SA-16 MANPADS, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and MiG-21B jets.
ISTANBUL — Islamic extremists captured a major government military airport in Raqqa, eastern Syria, on Sunday, completing their takeover of the entire province and dealing a humiliating blow to President Bashar Assad.
The victory is further evidence that the Islamic State is determined to widen its grip on the region. Since it launched its brutal assaults in June, the Islamic State has captured half of Iraq and one third of Syria and operates an Islamic caliphate armed with US weapons and financed by booty seized during its lightning raids.
The official Syrian news agency Sunday evening conceded the loss of the Tabka military base with a terse and euphemistic report that said Syrian forces had performed “a successful regrouping after evacuating” the airport.
Journalist Rafik Lutf, who’s close to the Assad regime, had earlier reported the loss of the airport and the death of about 150 troops.
An official of the conquering Islamic State said the group seized control after a four-day battle, in which 78 IS fighters were killed and 240 wounded.
Anti-government activists in the Raqqa area said the Syrian army flew combat aircraft from Tabka to Deir al Zour in eastern Syria and to another major desert base, and that 20 vehicles full of Syrian troops were seen driving out of the base.
The casualties may be a good deal higher. An Islamic State official, who demanded anonymity because he is not an authorized Islamic State spokesman, said the regime had stationed were 873 troops on the base.
The Islamic State, which last week shocked the world by executing American journalist James Foley and circulating the macabre video showing his decapitation, reportedly beheaded a number of captured Syrian soldiers Sunday and put their severed heads on display in the city of Raqqa. The Raqqa Media Center, an anti-government opposition group, published a photo of one soldier’s head, and McClatchy has seen a photo showing nine severed heads.
The regime for its part stepped up its bombardment of Raqqa, and opposition sources said the victims of its bombs Sunday included civilians who had gone to the center of Raqqa to see the severed heads on display.