Islamic State gunmen on Wednesday publicly killed dozens of men belonging to a resistant Sunni tribe, witnesses said, in another chilling message to authorities seeking to galvanize opposition to the militants.

Social media accounts affiliated with the extremist group said the militants killed 46 tribesmen in the western city of Hit, which the Islamic State seized this month. Residents confirmed that the men — most of them members of the Albu Nimr tribe — were killed in a city square.

The tribesmen had been holding off Islamic State advances in and around Hit for months but lost the city amid complaints that they needed more support.

Enlisting Sunni tribes such as the Albu Nimr in the fight against the Islamic State is a critical component of the Iraqi and U.S. strategy against the militants in the western province of Anbar, a key pathway to Baghdad. But the efforts have lacked coordination and organization.

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