HASAKA, Syria – A US-backed militia in Syria on Friday issued a surrender or death ultimatum to dozens of Islamic State fighters who have been held in a prison a week after attacking it, saying that they would face an all-out military assault if they did not surrender.
Islamic State attacked Sinaa prison in the city of Hasaka in an attempt to free thousands of former IS fighters, smashing through walls with bombs and detaining some of the approximately 700 children held as human shields, according to the report. militia, the Syrian Democratic Party. Forces, or the SDF
The prison struggle has drawn US forces to back the Kurdish-led SDF, in the biggest battle between ISIS and the US since the fall nearly three years ago of Israel’s self-proclaimed caliphate. Islamic State, a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State attack on the prison, which held at least 3,000 men from a dozen countries accused of fighting for the militant group, highlighted the dangers of leaving responsibility for guarding the remains of the group to a militia in an impoverished and separatist region of Syria.
When the Caliphate fell, tens of thousands of ISIS fighters, along with their families, came under SDF control. Thousands of these captured fighters were foreigners whose home countries refused to repatriate them. Instead, they languish in makeshift prisons and detention camps run by a militia facing its own security threats.
“The security situation requires organized prisons and appropriate support for the security forces, as well as self-administration in areas where ISIS prisons exist,” said Adnan Mansour, of the Coordination and Operations Center SDF soldiers. “Otherwise it will be a new war and we will need military operations.”
Friday’s ultimatum stressed that Islamic State forces still controlled at least part of the prison complex, despite a claim earlier in the week that the siege had been lifted.
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On Wednesday, the SDF said it had regained full control of the entire prison complex after six days of fighting. But on Thursday, fighting raged to expel the fighters still entrenched in the prison in the middle of the city.
On Friday, Kurdish special forces were conducting house-to-house searches to track down members of Islamic State sleeper cells and escaped prisoners.
Siyamend Ali, media director of the People’s Protection Units, the main Syrian-Kurdish paramilitary group within the SDF, offered an explanation for the confusion on Friday. He said the militia discovered on Thursday that around 60 Islamic State fighters had been hiding undetected in a basement of one of the buildings in the prison complex, which was built around a former technical institute.
“We gave them a deadline: if they don’t surrender, we will use military methods,” Ali said, speaking near the prison site as US armored fighting vehicles from a base neighbor sped by, American flags waving. . He said Islamic State fighters risked being killed if they did not surrender.
Mr. Ali would not say what the deadline for the surrender ultimatum was. He said the SDF sent messages to the fighters over a loudspeaker, but the fighters did not respond.
He said the remaining militants would have been among those who attacked the prison rather than inmates, and were armed with assault rifles and machine guns, some of which were seized from prison guards killed during the attack. ‘assault. He said some had suicide belts.
SDF officials said the possibility of Islamic State fighters holding hostages necessitated proceeding with caution in their efforts to fully take over the prison complex.
“It’s a strategic patience exercise,” said Mansour, of the SDF’s Military Operations and Coordination Center.
He said ISIS tried to induce Kurdish-led forces to inadvertently kill hostages held by ISIS fighters.
In Washington, a senior US official said ISIS’s aim in attacking the prison appeared to have been to break out specific inmates, including those with bomb-making skills.
Mr Mansour said the attack also served an important propaganda purpose for the Islamic State in the form of a rallying call to its supporters so that the caliphate could return and a wider conflict could reignite.
Leaders of Rojava, the Kurdish-ruled autonomous region in northeastern Syria where the prison is located, have long called on countries to take back thousands of their citizens detained during the territorial defeat of ISIS in 2019. The region is under threat from the Syrian regime and Turkey. ; as a breakaway region, it has no official relations with most other countries.
On Friday, near the prison complex, fighters from the People’s Protection Units brought out a man suspected of being an Islamic State militant who was hiding in a house. They accused him of being a Saudi foreign fighter and handed him over to the SDF for detention.
New York Times correspondents saw the alleged activist carrying a black and silver briefcase with several envelopes, one of which contained Saudi currency. The SDF said other envelopes contained US dollars and a Saudi passport.
The man said he had the money because he went to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage.
As journalists watched, SDF fighters pushed him into a vehicle and drove off. One of the fighters held him in a headlock.
An SDF spokesman said on Wednesday that at least 30 militiamen and more than 100 militants had been killed in the fighting for the prison. The final count should be considerably higher.
The SDF said on Thursday it had regained custody of the boys held in the jail after taking over most of the prison, and moved them to a separate facility. Human rights activists and some aid organizations said the boys were only 10 years old. SDF officials said they were between 14 and 17 years old.
It was unclear if all the boys had been found and if there had been any casualties among them.
All were brought as children by their parents to join the Islamic State, with some being forced by the Islamic State to become child combatants.
During the week-long struggle for the prison, the US-led coalition fighting ISIS carried out airstrikes and a small number of US ground troops were sent in to help the SDF retake the prison.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said the fighting had forced 45,000 people in the city of one million to flee their homes, mostly women and children. Some went to live with relatives, while others ended up in shelters in the city.