ISIS Returns to Syria, Uses its Children as Human Shields

Kurdish Official Accuses Turkey of Supporting Extremist Organization

Kurdish People's Protection Units fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor, as they monitor the movements of ISIS fighters who are stationed in Ghwayran. (Reuters)
Kurdish People's Protection Units fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor, as they monitor the movements of ISIS fighters who are stationed in Ghwayran. (Reuters)

ISIS Returns to Syria, Uses its Children as Human Shields

The Syrian province of Al Hasakah, in the north-east of the country, has recently witnessed armed clashes between elements of the ISIS organization and the Syrian Democratic Forces, known as the SDF, backed by the United States and the international coalition it leads against the extremist organization in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

This came after an attempt by elements of the organization to escape from a prison under the control of the SDF located in the Ghweran neighborhood of Hasakah, which is also known as al-Sina’a prison.

These confrontations have been going on for days and coincided with other clashes between members of the ISIS organization on one side and the Syrian regime forces on the other side in Raqqa.

With the outbreak of these confrontations, an official in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) called on the countries from which ISIS detainees came to return them or put them on trial in the areas under the administration’s control.


The areas under AANES control include parts of the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, in addition to Aleppo.

Luqman Ahmi, the AANES official spokesman, told Majalla that "those terrorists who are in prison must be tried in special courts in our areas to receive their punishment," adding that "at the same time, the Autonomous Administration demands the countries concerned to take back their nationals from al-Hol camp," which includes thousands of foreign jihadists of various European, Asian and African nationalities.

He added that "the international community should support the Autonomous Administration militarily, logistically and economically, to prevent the recurrence of similar attacks, such as the one that occurred in the industrial prison, as it poses a threat to international peace and security.”

He noted that "the situation after the attacks of groups from the terrorist organization ISIS on that prison, has become under the full control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the ‘army’ of the Autonomous Administration in its areas of influence.”

The Kurdish official did not mention the number of ISIS members who managed to escape from the al-Sina’a prison, which includes thousands of foreign members of the extremist organization.

These members fell into the hands of the SDF years ago when forces backed by Washington launched a large-scale attack on the Syrian town of Baghouz, located on the border with Iraq, to ​​eliminate the extremist organization in one of its last strongholds. This was announced by the SDF in late March of 2019.


Syrian Democratic Forces and US troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria (File Photo: Reuters)

In this regard, the official said, "We can only know the number of escapees after the process of retaking the prison has been completely finished and we compile the required statistics, but in my opinion, there are no cases of escape from Al-Sina'a prison”.

He noted that the elements that escaped from the prison were the same ones that were attacking it, adding that they are sleeper cells of the extremist organization, which began their attack on the prison from outside using car bombs.

Ahmi also accused the groups that attacked the prison of using some civilians as human shields, thus preventing the evacuation to other areas of local residents from the Ghweran neighborhood, which includes the prison and contains thousands of foreign jihadists.

Against the background of these confrontations, the Autonomous Administration announced a few days ago a curfew in the entire governorate of Hasakah and a number of other areas, which will continue until the beginning of next week, “to prevent the attacking groups from moving freely and to facilitate arrests or killings,” according to Ahmi.

He added: "The terrorist organization uses civilians as human shields as it hides among them, and therefore a curfew has been imposed for a period of one week and will continue until the completion of procedures to regain full control of the industrial prison," referring to a Turkish role in the recent attacks on the prison.

He also said that "Turkey uses the occupied areas of Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Tel Abyad as areas in which it trains ISIS elements after receiving similar training on its territory, and then provides them with full equipment, in order to use them as a spearhead against our regions on its behalf."

The Kurdish official added: "The Syrian authorities in Damascus also present a perception that ISIS terrorist prisoners are civilians but this is not true. The goal of Ankara and Damascus is to thwart the efforts of the Autonomous Administration and the international coalition to fight ISIS, and to declare themselves as alternatives to administer the region, but they failed to do so."

Against the background of that attack, which is considered the most violent by the extremist organization since it lost its last strongholds in Syria less than three years ago, 27 fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces lost their lives, in addition to five civilians, according to a SDF media official’s statement to the magazine.

Hundreds of al-Hasakah residents also went out to guard their homes and properties at the entrances to their neighborhoods, while photos and videos from there showed the presence of light weapons in their possession, in preparation for any attacks by ISIS.


Siyamand Ali, the media coordinator of the Kurdish armed group People's Protection Units, said that "the attack on the industrial prison began with three booby-trapped vehicles targeting the doors."

The People’s Protection Units is a Kurdish armed group that is one of the most prominent military formations affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces that was formed in early October of 2015.

Ali told Majalla: “After the explosions that took place, ISIS prisoners staged a rebellion inside the prison after burning the dormitories.”

“So, the prison got out of control for a short period, but after the rapid intervention of the anti-terror forces, it was recaptured as they imposed a security cordon on the prison, and also in the neighborhood adjacent to the prison, which consists of a few government buildings and university colleges.

“This security cordon prevented them from expanding their presence, and anyone who sought to escape could not cross those areas."

He continued: "Since the beginning of those attacks, when ISIS elements entered the prison, some of them managed to escape later during those clashes. The attackers escaped from the sleeper cells to a small nearby neighborhood, but the prisoners were unable to get beyond the prison walls and we arrested some 110 of the members of the organization when they were trying to escape and they are in the hands of our forces now.

“In my estimation, it is possible that small numbers of them reached the neighborhood surrounding Al-Sina'a prison."

Ali also revealed that after four days of armed confrontations there were 175 bodies of ISIS fighters in the hands of the forces that coordinate their media affairs, in addition to the detention of hundreds of ISIS members caught again while they were trying to escape from prison, including 13 ISIS members who were members of sleeper cells. They were not previously detained by the SDF.

He added: "The places where members of ISIS sleeper cells are holed up are outside the prison within an area of ​​about two kilometers, but after the operations we carried out with air support from the international coalition, they were forced to retreat towards some of the dormitories they control so far."

According to the media coordinator of the Kurdish units, the extremist organization has been preparing for these attacks for six months, according to the confessions obtained by the SDF from the attackers it arrested in operations that received air support from the international coalition.

He continued: "The preparations were taking place from the Syrian areas occupied by Ankara, in addition to some other areas in cooperation with sleeper cells of the organization in the areas under the control of our forces...It is also clear that ISIS is working in coordination between its elements in Syria and Iraq, but in conjunction with those attacks, Turkey launched attacks on our areas.”

Ali also warned of the repercussions of the return of the ISIS organization, calling on the international community to change its strategy in confronting the extremist organization, as it "constitutes a greater danger" than the previous periods that followed the fall of the town of Baghouz, which was its last stronghold.

He also appealed to the international community to assume its responsibilities in dealing with the issue of ISIS prisoners, as it is not the task of the SDF and the Autonomous Administration alone.



Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) deploy around the Ghwayran prison (also known as Sina'a) in Syria's northeast city of Hasakah on January 25, 2022, which was taken over by ISIS fighters days earlier. Credit: AFP/Getty

In this context, he also said: "Solutions must be found to this problem, as it goes beyond the capabilities of the Autonomous Administration and the SDF, and therefore there must be international solutions."

The media center of the Syrian Democratic Forces stated that it decided to strip a number of its fighters of their military identity, expel them from the ranks of its forces and refer them to the competent judiciary because of their violation of the moral and military values ​​and principles of the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the center's description after photos and videos circulated on social media showing members of the ISIS organization stripped of some of their clothes.

In conjunction with these developments, the Asayish forces (which are the internal security forces in the Autonomous Administration areas), announced the arrest of three ISIS members in a neighborhood of Hasakah province. These forces participated in the sweeping operations carried out by the SDF in the vicinity of the industrial prison.

A source from the Asayişh forces revealed to Majalla that "its security teams discovered a terrorist cell consisting of three people in one of the neighborhoods surrounding Al-Sina'a prison, where they were all arrested, noting that "large quantities of weapons were seized from their possession with which they were supporting the terrorists."

According to information obtained by Majalla, the remnants of the jihadi organization who attacked the industrial prison in the Ghweran neighborhood are using hundreds of detained children, whom the organization knows as Cubs of the Caliphate, as human shields inside a dormitory to impede the SDF's control of the prison again.

According to the sources, the Syrian Democratic Forces supported by the International Coalition are deliberately advancing slowly towards the dormitories inside the prison for fear of field executions that the organization may carry out against its imprisoned fighters or the children of the caliphate who have been taken as human shields.

The media center of the Syrian Democratic Forces had also indicated earlier that “a wave of internal liquidations" occurred among what he described as ISIS mercenaries in Ghweran prison in Hasakah when a group of ISIS terrorists killed at least seven of its members who were within its ranks, after they tried to advance towards the Syrian Democratic Forces to surrender.

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