The SDF warns that it is holding thousands of ISIS militants and supporters across northern Syria. There is now fear that the on-going Turkish operations, which forced the SDF to divert troops to the north, may give the militants an opportunity to escape.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have once again warned that imprisoned ISIS militants are a ticking time bomb. This latest warning comes as the group is engaged in a fight against the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) along the Turkish-Syrian Border. The heavy fighting has forced the SDF to send troops and resources to the north, fuelling fears that ISIS militants may take advantage of the reduced manpower of the SDF to attempt a prison break.
According to the SDF, it maintains two large prisons for ISIS militants in the Hasakah Province: The Derik Prison (Also known as the Black Prison) is located near the city of Derik/Malikiyah and houses 5,000 ISIS prisoners guarded by 400 SDF fighters. The Chirkin Prison is located near Qamishli City, housing ISIS militants from many nationalities. The areas surrounding the prison were bombed on Thursday as a result of a Turkish airstrike, fuelling fears of the militants escaping. A number of other, smaller prisons are maintained, with the SDF stating that around 10,000 ISIS militants are held in captivity.
In addition to these prisons, ISIS “civilians”, most of whom are wives of children of the militants, are held in numerous camps across the SDF-held areas. Best known among these is the al-Hol Refugee Camp where around 12,000 ISIS women and children of foreign origin and another 30,000 of Syrian and Arab origin are being held. Security is tight, but the on-going conflict with the SNA has stretched resources. Furthermore, numerous escape attempts have taken place in the camp, with some resulting in the deaths or injuries of staff and personnel. With the local SDF undermanned, such attempts may intensify or otherwise find greater success, contributing to the re-emergence of the group.
The risk of such a development has raised fears, especially in Europe where many of the foreign militants are from. The European Union has been moving to limit the damage that the Turkish operations can cause. However, they have, so far, been unwilling to take back their citizens to be tried in their home countries, resulting in an impasse.