BEIRUT, Lebanon – Islamic State fighters have attacked a prison in northeastern Syria in an attempt to free thousands of their comrades, in one of the terrorist group’s boldest attacks in the Middle East. since the fall of the so-called caliphate three years ago, US and Kurdish officials said Friday.
The offensive, which began Thursday night and continued into late Friday, sparked deadly clashes with Kurdish-led militias that control the area, officials said. killing dozens and allowing many prisoners to escape, at least temporarily, officials said.
Across the Iraqi border, Islamic State fighters carried out one of the bloodiest attacks in months there on Friday, killing 11 members of Iraqi security forces in a previous attack. dawn on an army post in Diyala province.
The twin attacks highlighted the fragile security situation that still exists in territories once ruled by Islamic State, and showed that the jihadists, though greatly weakened, still remain. could wreak havoc on US allies.
The new violence also draws attention to the unfinished business of the group’s military defeat in Iraq and Syria in 2019: tens of thousands of former residents of the so-called caliphate, fighters and families of them, who are currently in U.S. detention indefinitely. The state-backed militia is unwilling but unable to eliminate them.
IS fighters carried out the attack on the prison in the Syrian city of Hasaka on Thursday night by detonating a car bomb near the entrance and then opening fire on guards, officials said. .
The fighting spilled over into the vicinity, killing dozens, including civilians, and filling the air with automatic gunfire as residents fled.
When the militants attacked, the prisoners rioted, burning blankets and plastic and trying to help the attackers free them.
Late Friday, Islamic State fighters still control about a quarter of the northern part of the prison, and violent clashes continued there and in a neighboring area to the west, Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said. or SDF
Consequences of the civil war in Syria
After a decade of fighting, many Syrians wonder if the country can ever come together again.
It is unclear how many prisoners escaped and for how long.
Shami said that 89 inmates escaped on Friday but were captured by the SDF and sent back to the prison. A local news agency published a video Apparently those men, bearded and shirtless, were being carried in the back of a truck.
Shami said the SDF is not aware of any successful escapes, but there are unconfirmed reports of individual prisoners escaping.
Sabereen News, an Iraqi news agency with links to Iran-backed militias, said dozens of escaped prisoners were captured near the Syria-Iraq border as they tried to flee to Iraq.
The prison holds about 3,500 men who have been captured by the SDF in its battles to drive the Islamic State out of territory it controls in eastern Syria. The militias partner with an international military coalition led by the United States to fight Islamic State, which at its peak dominates territory the size of Britain in Syria and Iraq.
A US military official said that planes from the anti-Islamic State-Islamic State coalition carried out at least two strikes against “a significant number” of Islamic State attackers and those who escaped outside the prison.
The coalition has airborne surveillance aircraft to try to assist Syrian forces on the ground, but no US forces are directly involved, the official said.
Mr. Shami said that at least seven of the Kurdish-led security forces were killed in the clashes, a number likely to rise as around 50 others were seriously injured, some shot by gunmen. snipers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based conflict watchdog, said 39 Islamic State attackers, 35 members of the Kurdish-backed militia and five civilians had been killed. network.
The Syrian Observatory said Islamic State fighters inside the prison were holding guards hostage. Mr. Shami says there are no hostages.
Kurdish officials in northeastern Syria have long warned that they do not have the resources to safely hold so many prisoners in a makeshift prison, and that members of the still large Islamic State have the possibility of attempting a prison break.
Reflecting the diversity of the ranks of the Islamic State, prisoners come from dozens of countries, most of whom refuse to take them back.
Transparent a prison visit in 2019, reporters for The New York Times saw hundreds of men, many of them emaciated and wounded, wearing orange overalls and crammed into crowded cells. Interviewees all denied they had ever joined the Islamic State or claimed to have had nonviolent jobs as teachers or cooks.
The Times also found more than 150 children, ages 9 to 14, held in crowded cells. It’s not clear where they are at the moment.
Mr. Shami said on Friday that there were about 700 boys under the age of 18 in the prison but he did not know their current situation.
Human rights groups have criticized Western governments for not allowing their citizens to be repatriated from northeastern Syria, comparing their indefinite detention without trial to the plight of the men. detained in the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
In addition to the men held in prison, more than 60,000 other people, mostly women and children, who are being held for the so-called caliphate of the disbanded Islamic State are being held in camps nearby which aid groups have warned are unsanitary and serve as jihadist recruitment centers. .
American officials and counterterrorism experts have warned that continuing to detain these people risks sowing the seeds of a future insurgency.
“Unless we find a way to repatriate them, reintegrate them, and de-radicalize, we are giving ourselves the gift of fighters five to seven years later,” said General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. , the head of the Center. Commander, said last April.
Jane Arraf contribution reports from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/21/world/middleeast/isis-prison-syria-jail.html ISIS fighters attack Syrian prison to free jihadists