Syrian Kurds say prison recaptured after IS group attack

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US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria on Wednesday said they fully recaptured a prison in the northeastern city of Hasaka that had been attacked by the Islamic State (IS) group, ending the biggest jihadist assault in the country in three years. 

In a statement, Farhad Shami of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said days of operations had “culminated with our entire control” over the prison in Hasaka after all holdout IS group fighters surrendered. 

There was no mention in the statement of the 850 children and minors caught in the crossfire when the SDF aided by US troops began to storm the prison on Monday.

The UN and international aid organisations had expressed fear over the fate of the minors living alongside the nearly 5,000 prisoners in the overcrowded jail.

More than 100 jihadists from the IS group last week attacked Ghwayran prison in Hasaka, held by a semi-autonomous Kurdish administration.

The brazen assault on the Kurdish-run facility involved a double suicide bombing and saw the jihadists free fellow IS members, seize weapons and take over a series of jail blocks.

It is considered the most sophisticated attack carried out by the group since it was territorially defeated in Syria nearly three years ago.

Wassim Nasr: A complex attack

The SDF on Wednesday morning “carried out search operations inside prison blocks” and in areas surrounding the facility, where intermittent clashes had broken out overnight, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Heavy fighting in and around the prison since Thursday has killed 181 people, including 124 IS jihadists, 50 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians, says the Observatory.

That death toll could rise, however, as Kurdish forces and medical services gain access to all parts of the prison following the end of the attack.

According to the war monitor, an unknown number of jihadists had managed to escape but their exact number was not immediately clear. 

‘We want to go back home’

Thousands of Hasaka residents were forced to leave their homes due to the heavy fighting around the prison.

In one mosque located at a safe distance from the chaos, hundreds of women and children were huddled together in the biting winter cold.

“We want to go back home,” said Maya, a 38-year-old mother trying in vain to pacify her youngest, adding that “there is no bread, water or sugar here”.

Kurdish forces had cut off food and water to the jail for two days to pressure holdout jihadists to give themselves up, the Observatory said.

‘An international problem’

Kurdish authorities say they are holding more than 12,000 IS suspects with 50 different nationalities. They have long warned of jailbreaks since they do not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, all the IS fighters captured in years of operations.

“This issue is an international problem,” the administration’s top foreign policy official, Abdulkarim Omar, told AFP on Wednesday. “We cannot face it alone.”

He called on the international community to “support the autonomous administration to improve security and humanitarian conditions for inmates in detention centres and for those in overcrowded camps”.

The proto-state declared by IS group in 2014 once straddled large parts of Iraq and Syria.

After five years of military operations conducted by local and international forces, its last rump was eventually flushed out on the banks of the Euphrates in eastern Syria in March 2019.