The SDF is calling for increased security at Al-Hol Camp where some 70,000 people linked to ISIS are being held. These calls have gained urgency following a number of escape attempts, as well as a message by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging the group's cells to help such attempts.
More than six months after the fall of the last ISIS stronghold of Baghuz, al-Hol Camp for displaced people, where many of the “civilian” population of ISIS – wives, children and other relatives of the militants – were taken, has become a veritable powder keg.
Tensions in the camp have been rising steadily amidst discontent over the worsening humanitarian conditions in the camp and the dangers posed by the so-called “ISIS Wives” who have attacked the camp guards numerous times. These tensions now appear to be reaching their pinnacle following a sound clip published by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who called for ISIS cells and supporters to release their compatriots held within the camp.
The bid to release the ISIS supporters held within al-Hol Camp has raised concerns among the SDF leadership who have called for increased security measures in the camp. Such worries appear to be well-founded, as a number of escape attempts have already been recorded, including on Thursday when four smugglers were arrested trying to smuggle out four women, all of whom were Russian citizens.
Indeed, ISIS supporters who came to Syria from other countries remain a major problem. Many countries have, so far, refused to take their citizens back, leaving the SDF, which is underfunded, facing tensions with both Damascus and Ankara even as it is trying to prevent an on-going ISIS insurgency from gaining momentum.
History is instructive what happens when an ISIS prison break is successful. The emergence of ISIS in Iraq 2014 was preceded by a series of prison breaks across Iraq that resulted in the release of hundreds of ISIS militants and supporters, allowing the group to form a core group of insurgents who then proceeded to rampage across Iraq and Syria. Although most of the residents of al-Hol Camp are women and children, there are fears that the children have been getting radicalised by their mothers to push them into becoming the next-generation of militants.
Although ISIS attacks in northern and eastern Syria against the SDF have gone down and security operations have busted numerous ISIS cells, there are fears among the people of the region that this is merely the calm before something big happens. With al-Hol Camp holding some 70,000 people linked to ISIS in one way or another, their release would be catastrophic to the region and the country.