As US attacks Syrian prison held by ISIS, young detainees are caught in the crossfire

BAGHDAD – A US-backed militia that has waged four days of deadly battles to dislodge Islamic State fighters from a prison in northeastern Syria on Sunday warned that the militants jihadists are using more than 600 boys detained in the complex as “human shields”.

The United States has deployed attack helicopters and carried out airstrikes on the prison to help the Kurdish-led militia, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, reassert control. American officials said a number of prisoners were killed in the strikes.

American officials defended the attacks.

“The Coalition has taken great measures to ensure the humane treatment of detainees, but when those held by ISIS are armed, they become an active threat, and are subsequently captured by the SDF. and coalition air strikes, said. Brennan Jr., commander of the coalition against Isis in Iraq and Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces are an American partner in the autonomous region of Rojava in northeastern Syria.

The coalition said in a statement that it had conducted airstrikes and provided intelligence to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which it said had “conducted sustained operations” since the strikes. Jihadists attacked the prison on Thursday night in an attempt to free ISIS members held there. It said the prisoners used the warden’s guns to kill some of them after the siege began.

The coalition describes the current threat as “under control.”

To try to quell the uprising, a US military official said Apache helicopters have been conducting air strikes and performing low-altitude flights in a show of force.

The siege of the Ghweran prison in Hasaka, which holds thousands of jihadists and their family members after the fall of the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State, was well planned.

Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazlum Kobanisaid ISIS mobilized sleeping cells and used suicide bombers to organize the break-in.

The fight to retake the prison has been limited by militants using young detainees as human shields, the SDF said. It said the children were in a special rehabilitation ward inside the prison, which was built as a training college.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces holding ISIS terrorists are responsible for causing any harm to these children in prison,” the militia said in a statement.

While the Islamic State trains the boys to fight, nicknamed them “the caliphate’s cubs,” it’s unclear how many of the boys in captivity were fighters and how many were incarcerated. simply because they are considered too old to be in the camps for ISIS families.

The Rojava Information Center, run by pro-Syrian Kurdish activists, said Sunday that while the SDF and Kurdish-led intelligence forces are continuing to tighten security around the house’s wing Prisons are still held by ISIS, they have not managed. to regain control.

It said 650 of those arrested were under the age of 18. The children are mostly Syrian, but also include Iraqis and about 150 non-Arab foreigners.

Many of the children were brought to Syria by their parents to live in lands that militants claimed in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Three years ago, with the fall of IS’s last stronghold, in Baghuz, Syria, many children were separated by US-backed security forces from any surviving parents and detained. Others were sent to prison when they were deemed too old to be in detention camps for the families of ISIS fighters.

Letta Tayler, deputy director of crisis and conflict at Human Rights Watch, said she heard voice messages from a terrified teenager talking about seeing bodies and appearing to be in in the kitchen of a prison taken over by ISIS.

“He was saying, ‘There are so many people dying in front of me… I’m afraid I could die at any moment… I don’t know what to do. Please help me,” she said.

Ms Tayler said the boy, a foreigner, reported that the prison was “under attack from all sides.”

Last May, a United Nations human rights report said the conditions under which children are held in northeastern Syria meet the threshold for torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law. It describes overcrowding, no access to sunlight, malnutrition, and untreated wounds.

Ms Tayler said the current crisis could have been averted if the children’s home countries had agreed to their repatriation.

Grandma say on Twitter. “Instead, foreign countries put the blame for these children on the northeastern Syrian government. If anything happens to these boys during this prison attack, the boys’ country will have children’s blood on their hands.”

A propaganda video released by the Islamic State on Sunday shows more than a dozen men identified by the SDF as kitchen staff being held by masked ISIS fighters.

In Iraq, which also holds ISIS prisoners and is still battling a persistent jihadist presence, the government has increased security at its prisons.

The coalition said it was confident the Hasaka attack would not pose a significant threat to Iraq or the region but was still assessing whether Islamic State planned further attacks on detention facilities. keep in Iraq and Syria or not.

More than 10,000 foreigners, most of them women and children from families of IS fighters, have been held in squalid and increasingly dangerous camps in northeastern Syria since the fall of Baghuz in 2019. .

Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Beirut and Eric Schmitt from Washington. As US attacks Syrian prison held by ISIS, young detainees are caught in the crossfire

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