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SDF: ISIS detainees escape prison in northeast Syria

Prisoners took control of the ground-floor of the Kurd-run prison in Hasakeh, SDF says

The Syrian Democratic Forces said they regained control of a prison housing suspected Islamic State members near the northeast Syrian town of Hasakeh on Monday, March 30, following a breakout attempt the day prior.

General Mazlum Abdi, top commander of the SDF, said late Monday that control over the prison had been restored and that no detainees had escaped.

Two SDF sources in Hasakeh had previously told The Defense Post that detainees had escaped the prison on Sunday. SDF media chief Mustafa Bali subsequently announced the same, before SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel seemingly retracted the claim on Monday.

“ISIS terrorists took complete control over the ground floor of Hasakeh prison,” Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF press office, tweeted Sunday. “Some of them managed to escape and we are searching for them,” Bali wrote.

“The prisoners broke down the internal walls of the prison and removed the internal doors. The situation is tense inside the prison and the counter-terror forces are trying to control the situation. We have sent reinforcements and more counter-terror forces to the prison,” Bali wrote in a second tweet on Sunday.

Conflicting reports of the situation emerged on Monday morning. SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel announced that security forces had retaken control of the prison and that there were no escapes. The Rojava Information Center later reported gunfire at the prison, suggesting the situation was not fully under control.

Mazlum announced on Monday at 10:26 p.m local time (7:26 p.m. GMT) that the prison was under control of the security forces. It was not immediately clear from the statements whether any inmates had reached the prison’s courtyard or facility walls. Sources in Hasakeh said all inmates were captured by Monday morning.

Coalition warplanes on Sunday flew low over Hasakeh as Asayish, the internal security forces in the northeast, and SDF deployed in the city, according to the Rojava Information Center.

The U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State was assisting the SDF with aerial surveillance, “as they quell an uprising at Hasakah detention facility,” Coalition spokesperson U.S. Army Colonel Myles Caggins tweeted. “The facility holds low-level ISIS members. The CJTFOIR [international Coalition] does not staff any detention camps in Syria,” Caggins wrote.

An SDF source in Hasakeh told The Defense Post on Sunday that prisoners began smashing security cameras after taking control of the ground floor, and that the prison had been fully surrounded by SDF counter-terror units as of midnight local time.

“There’s an ongoing security investigation by the SDF and prison guards,” the source said on Sunday night, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media on the developing situation.

“So far there’s no definite information on the exact number of escaped prisoners, but a number have indeed escaped,” the source told The Defense Post, declining to speculate when asked why the riot began.

“This has happened several times in the last year or so, but this was the biggest.”

There are some 10,000 male suspected ISIS members in makeshift SDF-run prisons across northeast Syria. More than 60,000 of their family members, including children, are interned in the sprawling al-Hol and Roj camps under SDF control.

Most of the detainees were captured in the final months of the SDF’s Coalition-backed war against ISIS.

Guards at both al-Hol and the Hasakeh prison emphasized to The Defense Post in November their fears of impending breakouts and said they were badly undersupplied and staffed.

More than 100 ISIS prisoners escaped from other facilities as a result of Turkey’s military incursion against the SDF last year, though U.S. officials have said they believe most of them were recaptured.

The Pentagon has called the indefinite internment of ISIS prisoners of war in northeast Syria “not sustainable,” but so far few countries have shown any willingness to take back their citizens.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the political affiliate of the SDF, has been in discussion with European Union member governments over obtaining international oversight for locally-held trials inside northeast Syria, though no firm agreement has yet been reached, AANES officials have told The Defense Post.

This story was updated on March 30 to include details of statements by SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel and SDF commander Gen. Mazlum Abdi.

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