Dozens killed while fighting continues after IS’s prison attack in eastern Syria

Fighting raged for a third day on Saturday between the Islamic State and Kurdish forces in Syria after IS attacked a jail carrying jihadists, with violence killing nearly 90 people, a spokesman said.

The attack on the Ghwayran prison in the northeastern city of Hasakeh is one of IS’s most significant since its “caliphate” was declared defeated in Syria almost three years ago.

“At least 28 members of the Kurdish security forces, five civilians and 56 members of IS have been killed” in the violence, “said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

IS launched the attack on Thursday night against the prison with at least 3,500 suspected members of the jihadist group, including some of its leaders, the observatory states.

The jihadists “seized weapons they found” at the detention center and freed several other IS fighters, said the British observer, who relies on sources in war-torn Syria for his information.

Hundreds of jihadist prisoners had since been recaptured but dozens were still believed to be on the run, it added.

With air support from the US-led coalition, Kurdish security forces have surrounded the prison and are fighting to regain full control of the surrounding neighborhood, which jihadists have used as a launching pad for their attacks.

The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said “violent clashes” broke out in districts north of Ghwayran, where they carried out raids and killed more than 20 IS fighters.

An AFP correspondent saw Kurdish soldiers tormenting homes in the flashpoint area near the prison in search of militants while coalition helicopters flew overhead.

At one point, Kurdish fighters gathered around five bloody bodies of suspected IS fighters who had been placed along the roadside, the correspondent said.

“None but God” The fighting has sparked a civilian exodus from neighborhoods around Ghwayran, with families fleeing for the third day in a row in the harsh winter cold as Kurdish forces close in on IS targets.

“Thousands have left their homes near the prison and moved to nearby areas where their relatives live,” Sheikhmous Ahmed, an official in the autonomous Kurdish administration, told AFP.

But not all the displaced had a sanctuary.

“We do not know where we are going,” said Abu Anas, who was forced out of his home on Saturday.

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces is on guard in a prison where men affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group are being held in northeastern Syria in the city of Hasakeh on October 26, 2019. © Fadel Senna, AFP (archive) “We have no one but God “, he told AFP when he fled on foot with his wife and four children.

IS has carried out persistent attacks on Kurdish and government targets in Syria since the backbone of its once vast protostat was flooded in March 2019.

Most of them have targeted military outposts and oil installations in remote areas, but the Hasakeh jail term could mark a new phase in the group’s resuscitation.

IS said in a statement from its news agency Amaq that the attack on the prison aimed to “liberate the prisoners”.

A video from IS released by Amaq on Saturday allegedly showed armed jihadists infiltrating the prison at the beginning of the operation.

They raised the group’s black flag as they stormed the facility and surrounded what appeared to be a group of prison guards.

AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the films.

It was not immediately clear whether the prison break was part of a centrally coordinated operation – timed to coincide with an attack on a military base in neighboring Iraq – or the operation of a local IS cell.

“Fat target” Analyst Nicholas Heras of the Newlines Institute in Washington said the jihadist group was targeting the prison to bolster its numbers.

The Islamic State group “wants to go beyond being the terrorist and criminal network it has joined, and to do so it needs more fighters,” he told AFP.

“Imprisonment represents the best opportunity for ISIS to regain its strength in arms, and Ghwayran Prison is a fine target for ISIS because it is overcrowded,” he said, using another acronym for IS.

The Kurdish authorities have long warned that they do not have the capacity to hold, let alone prosecute, the thousands of IS fighters captured over years of operations.

They say more than 50 nationalities are represented in Kurdish-run prisons, where more than 12,000 IS suspects are now being held.

Many of the prisoners’ countries of origin have been reluctant to repatriate them, for fear of a public backlash in the home.

The autonomous administration’s top foreign policy official, Abdulkarim Omar, blamed the prison attack on “the failure of the international community to shoulder its responsibilities”.

The war in Syria, which broke out in 2011, has killed nearly half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.


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