In what appears to be one of the most significant military attacks by the Islamic State or Daesh since its military defeat in 2019 at Bāghūz by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), clashes between SDF units and ISIS members have continued today in al-Hasakah (Haseke) city, northeast Syria, after a largely foiled attempt by ISIS to free prisoners from a detention centre.
The detention centre in the Ghweiran (Xiwêran) neighbourhood of al-Hasakah, housing around 5,000 detainees affiliated with ISIS, was stormed by groups of ISIS fighters on Thursday. The attack was thwarted by units of the internal security and the SDF.
As ISIS militants who carried out the attack and a number of detainees who broke out went into hiding in the nearby Zihûr neighbourhood, the area was surrounded by SDF units and armed clashes ensued.
The armed clashes continued both inside and outside Sina’a Prison on Friday, and according to local sources 89 detainees were recaptured outside the prison, Rojava Information Centre reported.
At least six ISIS fighters and an undisclosed number of SDF fighters were killed in the clashes, according to Yahoo News. A firefighter was also killed during the clashes.
I am joined this evening to talk about these dramatic events by Saleh Muslim, a key member of the Co-Presidency Council of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Speaking from his home in AANES, Saleh Muslim is very well known to our followers and readers as he has been one of the most prominent Kurdish spokespersons during much of the Syrian civil war and Rojava Revolution.
Abdulkarim Omar, the co-chair of the foreign relations department of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) today reportedly said that foreign states were partially responsible for the situation in al-Hasakah. He said:
“These incidents are the result of the foreign states’ inability to fulfill their duties. True, at Bāghūz we brought an end to ISIS’s military presence in the region. However, the terrorism by ISIS is far from over. The victory was merely military. ISIS is still active. Sleeper cells are attacking all the time. In places that had been under ISIS control for years, ISIS ideology has not disappeared.”
I began my interview with Saleh Muslim by asking if he agreed with the statement by Abdulkarim Omar.
Saleh explained that the AANES has been constantly warning of the ISIS threat both inside the prisons and outside the prisons, of ISIS activity and violence and assassinations inside the camps and outside of the camps too. Saleh referred to an ISIS Emir (commander) who was recently captured by SDF forces along with 11 others as an ISIS cell, who spoke freely about plans to attack the prison, and said that most of the weapons, equipment and resources for this planning came from the territory controlled and occupied by Turkey. He spoke openly, and detailed this operation to attack the prison and liberate the ISIS prisoners in al-Hasakah.
So, these plans that he detailed happened exactly as he said, with cars being blown up and civilians in the local neighbourhood being used. Saleh explained how the fighting is continuing inside and outside the prison, and that many prisoners have been captured and many ISIS militants have been killed. Civilians who refused to support the ISIS fighters have also been brutally killed. Saleh said the operation to quash this uprising by ISIS has to be treated very carefully, as ISIS are using civilians as human shields, so the SDF and People’s Portection Units (YPG) forces have to be very sensitive in dealing with this situation.
Saleh Muslim then also confirmed a most extraordinary event, that some cars were travelling in convoy from Tall Tamr to support the SDF’s operations against ISIS, and these cars were hit by Turkish drone missile attacks.
He said that the problem is that Daesh/ISIS is ideological and that they have their own mentality and will accept support from anyone even if they are being used for different purposes. So, if you really want to finish Daesh you have to cut the lines of support to them. He repeated the example of the ISIS Emir recently captured, whose confessions of Turkish support were widely reported, confessions that his ISIS cell got support from the Turkish occupied areas of Serekaniye, Tell Abyad, etc and that if Daesh are to be defeated, you need to cut the support from the Turkish controlled areas.
Saleh said that the International Coalition Against ISIS are taking part in the operations against the ISIS/Daesh prison revolt and attempt to set free ISIS prisoners in al-Hasakah. He said that they are targeting ISIS cells and buildings that ISIS snipers were occupying, but whether they will take any action against Turkey he could not say. He said these were political decisions of the US administration.
When asked what his message was to the international community, Saleh began by asking if we could imagine if these 5,000 ISIS fighters broke free and that this ISIS threat for all the world were not just a problem for AANES but an international problem. He said the international community should take action to stop the support for ISIS, that ISIS prisoners are getting support in many different ways including from some NGOs, including organisations like the Red Crescent, and also that some of the NGOs actively object to their workers being searched going in and out of the camps so he thinks this needs to be reviewed and stopped too. He called on the United Nations to cooperate with the AANES to solve this issue. He also talked about the AANES plans to organise courts to bring many ISIS prisoners to justice and called on the international court to be involved.
Saleh then spoke about the situation in Afrin on the 4th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Afrin.
Saleh finished the interview highlighting the point that all of the events in the run-up to the ISIS attempts on al-Hasakah: the closing of the border; the moving of ISIS sleeper cells and Turkey’s increased and constant attacks; have all taken place since the last meeting of the participants of Astana Agreement, when plans were drawn up against NE Syria and the AANES, between Turkey, Russia (representing the Syrian regime) and Iran, and that there is a very dirty war going on which includes the use of bribery, psychological warfare and support for ISIS. He said everyone who is interested in what is happening in Syria should know these facts.