ISTANBUL—Islamic State extremists said they have burned two Turkish soldiers alive captured in the fight for Syria.A film video posted Thursday night showed the two men, their feet shackled and tied to a post standing in front of a mat as a flammable liquid poured over them and then ignited. The flames are shown consuming the men, who both collapse to the ground.After they are clearly dead, an ISIS fighter is shown approaching the bodies and pouring more fuel on them, adding to the flames.The date and the exact location of the execution were not known. While ISIS claimed the soldiers were taken near Al Bab, a town that Turkish and moderate rebel forces are besieging northeast of Aleppo, the barren area where the execution took place could well have been some distance from Al Bab, possibly not even in Syria.The men speak in the film before their deaths, identifying themselves as Sefter Tas and Fethi Sahin. The video could not be seen in Turkey, which has blocked the web sites of the Islamic State, but an Arab language website called Arabi 21 provided details of the film. The two men speak from inside a cage where they were being held. "I am Fethi Şahin. My birthplace is Konya. I am in charge of the 26th Gendarmerie Intelligence Service in Turkey. The location of my job is in Tekirdag. I am now a hostage in the hands of the Mujahideen of the Islamic State."Then the second man speaks."I am Sefter Tas, age 21. I am an infantry soldier in the Turkish Armed Forces, in Kilis, in the Border Police Station.” His home town was understood to be Igdir, near the Armenian border.Both charge that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was responsible for their plight.Erdogan in a speech Friday said that the moderate rebels, backed by the Turkish Army, would soon capture Al Bab. He did not mention the immolation of the two Turkish soldiers.
Their execution recalled the action by ISIS in January of 2015, when Jordanian pilot Moaz al Kasasbeh, bailed out of his F16 plane when it went down of Syrian territory and was showing being burned alive inside a cage. Tas and Sahin were burned on open ground, but they’d also been imprisoned in cages, the video showed.The killing posed a major challenge to Turkey, which launched Operation Euphrates Shield on August 24 to dislodge ISIS from its remaining positions along the Turkish border. Relying on moderate Arab rebels for its ground force, and utilizing a small number of its own troops, Turkey quickly captured the border town of Jarablus and then pushed towards Al Bab, some 40 miles to the southeast.While the combined force has made rapid advances, it comes at a high human price for Turkey—a price that could prove costlier still, with so many hostile forces in the immediate vicinity. Besides ISIS, there are troops from the Syrian government, which Thursday announced it had seized all of rebel-held Aleppo nearby, and is publicly hostile to the Turkish intervention.Then there’s the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the Kurdish militia that also has been fighting ISIS with U.S. air support. The YPG has their eyes on Al Bab, as well, in order to link all predominantly Kurdish territories in northern Syria.Finally there are two other major players, Iran and Russia. If Ankara’s currently friendly relations with Moscow turn cool again, Russia could immediately pose a major threat to the Turkish intervention, for it controls air defenses in Syria.The situation is so fraught with peril from so many directions that the U.S. military has dropped out of active participation in the Turkish operation.With the deaths of these two young soldiers, Turkey has lost some 35 troops in the past four months, most by ISIS-driven suicide vehicles and many of them in tanks attacked by ISIS or YPG. Earlier this month, several soldiers were killed by a missile fired from a drone that Turkish media reported was of Iranian origin.But the human cost to the people of Al Bab is also considerable. Local Coordination Committees reported late Thursday that Turkish bombs had killed dozens of civilians in Al Bab on Wedneday. But the death toll may be far higher. LCC staff said Friday they had the names of 80 dead civilians, and the total number could be well over 100.ISIS as a practice has used civilians as human shields, and it is possible they are deliberately marking targets in a manner to draw Turkish airstrikes. Military sources in Ankara said they could not confirm the deaths of civilians.The video showed scenes of what it described as the aftermath of the Turkish bombing in an area held by Turkey. The commentator said the punishment of the two Turkish soldiers was the same sort of suffering that the Turkish government had carried out against the people of the Islamic State. An unnamed commentator on the film urged viewers to set Turkey on fire and attack Erdogan.A Turkish ISIS fighter, calling himself Abu Hasan, declared on the film that Turkey “has become the land for Jihad.” He urged the group’s sympathizers in Turkey to “burn it, blow it up and destroy it.”-- with additional reporting by special correspondent Duygu Guvenc in Ankara