Original article by Joanne Stocker, October 13, 2019
Hundreds of family members of Islamic State adherents held inside a camp in Ain Issa, northern Syria, have escaped following Turkish bombardment nearby, according to the autonomous administration in the area and eyewitnesses.
It was unclear if all estimated 950 foreign women and children, including orphans, held in the secure section of the camp had fled on Sunday, October 13, but the Syrian Democratic Forces and an eyewitness said hundreds of people had escaped after Turkish warplanes dropped a bomb nearby.
“Almost all suspected ISIS militants fled the camp,” said SDF chief spokesperson Mustafa Bali.
A witness said that Syrians displaced by years of civil war fled first, and some of the ISIS family members used the opportunity to escape, said the regional monitor Rojava Information Center, which is tracking the conflict after Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria on October 9.
As many as 850 people escaped, although some may have been recaptured, according to Jelal Ayaf, co-chair of the camp administration.
Ayaf said ISIS sleeper cells emerged from the “open” section housing IDPs and carried out attacks.
A source with an aid organization working in the area told The Defense Post on Sunday that conditions in the camp had deteriorated rapidly within the 24 hours before the escape.
Stressing that the situation remained confused and was rapidly changing, the source said that Turkish forces Turkey-backed rebels were in charge of the camp.
Ain Issa camp holds about 13,000 people, mostly IDPs, according to the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, which is affiliated with the SDF. At least 50% of those people were children, the aid organization source said. The secure annex was home to 249 women and 700 children linked to ISIS, according to Save the Children, which said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports.
“We don’t know where those foreign families are,” said the source with the aid organization.
Earlier on Sunday, SDF official Marvan Qamishlo said that the SDF did not have enough guards to prevent an escape. Only 60 to 70 guards remained, compared to the 700 who usually secure the camp, Reuters reported Qamishlo as saying.
Another SDF spokesperson, Kino Gabriel, told The Defense Post prior to Turkey’s incursion that the force could not guarantee the security of al-Hol camp or the prisons where thousands of ISIS fighters are detained if it had to focus on the invasion.
On Thursday, the al-Hol military council said it would deploy forces to support Syrian Democratic Forces fighters under attack along the Syria-Turkey border, and other military councils, including the Christian Syriac Military Council, have said they will defend the area from Turkey-backed fighters.
“Once again, we urgently call on foreign governments to repatriate their nationals while they can. The opportunity is quickly slipping away,” Save the Children Syria Response Director Sonia Khush said.