Kurdish fighters were deployed Monday, January 24, for an assault on a prison attacked by jihadists in Hassaké, Syria. This attack raises serious concerns about the fate of hundreds of teenagers still detained.
On January 20, more than a hundred Islamic State (IS) jihadists stormed Ghwayran prison with truck bombs and heavy weapons. Violent clashes lasted several days around and within this prison in northeastern Syria.
According to a new report established Monday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), 154 people were killed in five days of fighting between Kurdish and jihadist forces; 102 jihadists, 45 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians.
Nearly 45,000 people fled their homes due to the assault on the prison and the intense fighting that followed, according to the United Nations (UN).
850 teenagers “taken hostage”
Spearheading the fight against ISIS, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition have consolidated their positions around the prison, with a view to carrying out an assault, according to the OSDH.
Their progress is hampered by the presence of teenagers in the prison, caught ” Held hostage “ and used as “human shields” by the jihadists, according to an FDS press release. Previously held in a “rehabilitation center”, these minors are now locked in a dormitory, they assured.
Some of these teenagers, numbering 850, are as young as 12, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), which called for their protection and underlined the “risk of children being harmed or forcibly recruited” by IS.
Ghwayran prison, a former school converted into a penal center three years ago during the defeat of IS, was largely overcrowded before the assault, with at least 3,500 jihadists among the detainees, according to the OSDH.
Main support of the Kurdish forces during their offensives against the IS, the coalition forces based in the region have massively deployed in Hassaké.
Coalition helicopters fly over the area where the prison is located, according to an Agence France-Presse correspondent on the spot. On the ground, Kurdish fighters are stepping up efforts to find fugitives.
On Monday, after a raid by Kurdish forces, jihadists surrendered to the SDF, assured their spokesman Farhad Shami.
The Kurdish authorities have decreed “a complete curfew in Hassaké and its surroundings for seven days from January 24”, for’“to prevent members of terrorist cells from escaping”. Apart from those of basic necessities, businesses must close.
The Kurds, who control parts of northern and northeastern Syria, have been calling for years in vain for the repatriation of some 12,000 jihadists of more than 50 nationalities, European and other, held in their prisons.
Triggered in March 2011 by the repression of demonstrations in favor of democracy, the war in Syria has become more complex over the years with the involvement of regional and international powers and the rise of jihadists. Despite its defeat in 2019, IS still manages to carry out deadly attacks through sleeper cells.