ISIS car bomb attack
People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Karbala, Iraq, Oct. 20, 2014. Five car bombs exploded in the Shiite shrine city, killing three people and wounding 27, a security official said. Reuters/ Mushtaq Muhammed

Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra militants were close to threatening Syria's second city of Aleppo after hundreds of jihadists briefly took over the newly appointed governor's office in the northwestern provincial capital of Idlib. It is believed that 70 senior Syrian army officers were beheaded before government troops could recapture the building and save Idlib.

A message to Damascus read: "they were slaughtered," and the Assad administration initially assumed that the city was taken over by the jihadists after security officials at Gov. Kheir Eddib Asayed's office surrendered the building.

The regime soldiers at the city's perimeter, however, kept fighting several hundred jihadists who were trying to enter into Idlib until the governor's office was finally recaptured.

A timely call to army headquarters by the new governor, who was not in his office at the time, helped prevent false news of Idlib's fall from causing havoc in Damascus.

Despite the attack being directly linked to Jabhat al-Nusra rebels, who are allied with al Qaeda, the Syrian government considers all of its opponents a part of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) terrorists.

The gunmen carried out the attack in typical ISIS style by capturing the maximum number of senior regime officers and ritually beheading them by knife rather than shooting them.

Before the Jabhat al-Nusra rebels were defeated, they were heard claiming that their victory was "a second Raqqa" and "soon, you will hear the screams of unbelievers," reported the British newspaper the Independent. Raqqa in eastern Syria is the Islamic State's headquarters.

Idlib is strategically placed between Aleppo and the coastal city of Latakia, and had it been lost to the jihadists, President Bashar Assad's regime would have taken a major blow.

Before the war, Idlib was known for its museum that houses treasures from Roman "dead cities" of northern Syria.