Kurdish-led forces announce complete recapture of al-Sinaa prison after week-long fighting with ISIS

At least 180 people, including around 120 ISIS fighters and 50 SDF personnel, were killed in fighting since the attack on al-Sinaa prison prison last week. This has yet again highlighted the issue of over 10,000 ISIS prisoners in various jails in the region

January 27, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
ISIS prisoners in Syria
Recaptured ISIS prisoners in Hasakah province, Syria. (Photo: SDF Media/Rudaw)

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Wednesday, January 26, the recapture of the al-Sinaa prison in the Hasakah province from the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) after a week of fighting. The SDF claimed that the last group of fighters holed up inside the prison surrendered and majority of the prisoners trying to flee were captured.   

At least 181 people were killed during the fighting which went on for a week after hundreds of suspected ISIS fighters attacked the prison on January 20. Nearly 50 SDF personnel and seven civilians were killed during the operation which was coordinated with the International Security Forces (ISF) in the region.  

Farhad Shami, head of the SDF media center, tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that all “Daesh terrorists” have surrendered. The surrender came a day after a delegation of international forces, including US and British officials, went inside the prison to negotiate with the ISIS forces, Al-Mayadeen reported. 

Following the attack, the inmates took prison employees hostage and used children present inside as human shields to prevent the SDF forces from recapturing the prison, the SDF claimed. A large number of suspected ISIS fighters broke a wall of the prison and tried to flee.  

The SDF forces mounted a counter attack to recapture the prison and prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing in coordination with international coalition forces which bombed several areas in the region suspected to be hideouts of those who were fleeing. 

The airstrikes and use of drones by the US forces in the operation has been criticized by the Syrian government and some other sections citing loss of civilian life and infrastructure. At least seven civilians were killed and hundreds were forced to leave their homes during the aerial bombing.   

Threat of ISIS and presence of foreign troops in the region

While the SDF claimed that it has recaptured more than a thousand inmates trying to flee the al-Sinaa prison, the number of inmates still at large is not yet clear. The incident has once again highlighted the urgent need to resolve the long pending issue of the fate of thousands of suspected ISIS fighters kept in temporary jails in the region.

An unconfirmed number of suspected ISIS fighters (anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000) were imprisoned in the al-Sinaa prison. The SDF claims that it holds a total of nearly 12,000 ISIS fighters in different prisons in north-east Syria since the defeat of the terrorist group in 2019. The SDF has warned that these prisons are vulnerable to attacks from ISIS that can lead to its regrouping. 

A large number of inmates in SDF prisons are also children and women. According to Al Jazeera, there were around 850 children and minors inside the al-Sinaa prison alone at the time of the ISIS attack on January 20. 

A large part of the suspected ISIS fighters are foreign nationals. However, despite global concerns, countries in Europe and elsewhere have been reluctant to take back their civilians and try them in their own jurisdictions. 

The lack of resolution on the issue of ISIS prisoners is at the center of the presence of the ISF in the region led by the US. The ISF was formed in 2014 to fight against the ISIS threat in Syria and Iraq. Even after three years of it officially declaring victory, the US continues to justify the presence of its forces in the region citing the possible re-emergence of ISIS.  

The Syrian government and the Iraqi parliament have asked foreign troops to leave their countries as they are increasingly seen as occupiers and a source of instability in the region.     

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