BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government warplanes carried out a series of airstrikes Tuesday on the de-facto capital of the extremist Islamic State group, killing at least 60 people, shattering shop fronts and setting dozens of cars ablaze, activists said.
Some of the air raids struck a popular market near a museum and an industrial neighborhood in the city of Raqqa along the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria, causing many civilian casualties, they said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at more than 60, among them 36 civilians whose names it was able to document. The Local Coordination Committees said the strikes killed at least 70 people. Another Raqqa-based collective called Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered said it documented over 80 deaths. Such discrepancies are normal in the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Syria.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the death toll — one of the worst single day tolls in the city.
The Syrian government as well as the U.S.-led coalition frequently bomb Islamic State group targets in Raqqa, but it was not immediately clear what prompted Tuesday's unusually intense strikes. The Islamic State group has slaughtered hundreds of Syrian soldiers in the past few months, and recently published a video showing what it said was the beheading of more than a dozen Syrian soldiers, including officers.
A militant video posted online Tuesday of the aftermath of the strikes showed medics bundle four bloody bodies into the back of an ambulance amid shouts of "God is Great." In the background, a fire truck tries to douse several burning cars as gray smoke rises into the sky.
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to AP reporting on the strikes.
An activist who uses the name Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi said nine airstrikes took place within half an hour. All but one struck civilian neighborhoods in the center of the city, he said, with one knocking off the minaret of a mosque.
"This is one of the ugliest regime massacres in Raqqa to date," said the Moscow-based activist, who oversees Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered network. He said overwhelmed and poorly equipped hospitals in Raqqa were appealing for blood donations following the attacks.
On Twitter, several accounts affiliated with the Islamic State group said several of its members were killed in Tuesday's airstrikes, without giving details.
In Iraq, the Islamic State group blew up the al-Nasir convent in the northern city of Mosul, which has been controlled by the militants since June. Its resident nuns fled the city along with most of Mosul's remaining Christians when militants overran the city.
The Islamic State group has frequently targeted Christians by bombing their churches and killing clergymen, as well as religious minorities across Iraq's north.
The group now controls a third of Syria and Iraq, declaring the territory as part of its self-described caliphate governed by its own violent interpretation of Shariah law. The group's militants also have beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives, celebrating its mass killings in extremely graphic online videos.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.