'Hostages rescued' after SDF regains control of IS-occupied prison

'Hostages rescued' after SDF regains control of IS-occupied prison
3 min read
26 January, 2022
The SDF says it has defeated a six-day long IS attack on a prison in Hasakeh, securing the safety of hostages in the process.
An SDF spokesperson said that the hostages were safe although other reports claimed otherwise [Getty]

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Wednesday that they had regained full control of Ghwayran prison and secured the hostages held there, ending a six-day standoff with IS fighters which left at least 180 dead and 6,000 displaced.

The SDF's media centre announced on Wednesday afternoon that the prison had been reclaimed by SDF fighters and that all IS fighters had surrendered.

A spokesperson for the SDF, Aram Hanna, told The New Arab that all hostages had been rescued and that they were all in good health, though media reports have previously reported injuries and even deaths among the hostages.

Nearly 850 children had been held hostage by IS, with rights groups warning that the some of the children were injured and deprived of food and water.

Hanna’s account contradicted voice notes sent by minors in the prison which spoke of children and other hostages who were injured and perhaps even possibly killed.

One 17 year-old Australian hostage told his family that he had suffered a head wound and described seeing dead bodies around him.

At least 1,000 IS prisoners surrendered to the SDF, though it is unclear how many actually participated in the attack, and how many managed to escape. The prison housed up to 3,500 suspected IS fighters, including nearly 850 children between the ages of 12-18.

Hanna said that most of the hostages will be housed in temporary detention facilities, with the fate of others still unknown.

TheIS  attack started last Thursday night with car bombs exploding by the prison walls, and fighters targeting the exterior of the prison.

At the same time, detainees staged a riot within the prison, attacking guards and taking prison staff hostage.

The SDF, with the support of the US-led coalition against IS, surrounded the prison and tried to entice IS fighters to surrender.

The Coalition conducted airstrikes on the prison and used Apache helicopters to target fighters from above.

The SDF also worked to secure the surrounding neighbourhoods, as IS fighters holed up in civilian homes and fired rounds from there.

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The presence of hostages in the prison made recapturing it difficult, with the SDF saying their priority was to secure the safety of the hostages rather than eliminate IS fighters.

The prison attack was the most significant attack by IS in Syria and Iraq since the group was territorially defeated in March 2019. Analysts have warned that the latest attacks signify the group’s growing strength and resurgence.

The SDF has housed 12,000 alleged IS fighters – 3,000 of them foreigners – in makeshift, dilapidated detention facilities since the fall of IS's self-styled "caliphate".

Despite calls for international assistance, most foreign nations have dragged their feet in repatriating their nationals. The Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, has accused the international community of abandoning their responsibilities.

On Wednesday, 130 Syrian civil society organizations issued a demand that the international community “start holding IS members accountable.”

The groups said that conditions for IDPs in northeast Syria need be improved, security conditions around the prisons should be strengthened, and that the UN should set up an evidence-gathering mechanism for crimes committed by IS and set up a process to hold the extremist group's members to account.