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Islamic State Group Kills 15 Truffle Hunters in Syria, Monitor Says

The Islamic State group killed 15 people foraging for desert truffles in conflict-ravaged central Syria by cutting their throats, while 40 others are missing, a war monitor said Friday.

Since February, at least 150 people, most of them civilians, have been killed by IS attacks targeting truffle hunters or by landmines left by the extremists, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria's desert truffles fetch high prices in a country battered by 12 years of war and a crushing economic crisis.

"At least 15 people, including seven civilians and eight local pro-regime fighters, were killed by IS fighters who slit their throats while they were collecting truffles on Thursday," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Forty others are missing following the attack in Hama province, he added.

Syrian state media did not immediately report the incident.

Between February and April each year, hundreds of impoverished Syrians search for truffles in the vast Syrian Desert, or Badia, a known hideout for jihadis that is also littered with landmines.

The monitor said that IS was taking advantage of the annual harvest of truffles to carry out attacks in remote locations.

Foragers risk their lives to collect the delicacies, despite repeated warnings about landmines and IS fighters.

The Syrian Desert is renowned for producing some of the best quality truffles in the world.

The prized fungus can sell for up to $25 per kilo in a country where the average monthly wage is around $18.

Earlier this month, IS fighters killed three truffle hunters and kidnapped at least 26 others in northern Syria, according to the monitor, which relies on a vast network of sources inside Syria.

That attack happened near positions held by pro-Iran forces, said the Britain-based Observatory.

In February, IS fighters on motorcycles opened fire on truffle hunters, killing at least 68 people, the war monitor said at the time.

After IS lost its last scraps of territory in March 2019 following a military onslaught backed by a U.S.-led coalition, remnants of the group in Syria mostly retreated to hideouts in the desert.

They have since used such hideouts to ambush civilians, Kurdish-led forces, Syrian government troops and pro-Iranian fighters, while also mounting attacks in neighboring Iraq.

Syria's war has left about a half million people dead and millions displaced since it erupted in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.