BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led forces in Syria put down riots by Islamic State militants in a prison in the country’s northeast on Monday, hours after the extremists knocked down doors and dug holes in walls between cells, a Syrian Kurdish spokesman said.
Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said the situation in the prison in the northeastern town of Hassakeh was “fully under control.” He said their anti-terrorism force “ended the riots and secured the facility and all prisoners inside.”
It was not immediately clear if the riots were triggered by concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus.
Mustafa Bali, another spokesman for the forces, said late Sunday that so far there is no connection between the riot and fears of the fast-spreading virus. There are concerns over an outbreak of the virus inside overcrowded prison facilities in Syria and elsewhere in the region. But so far there are no reports of infection in Kurdish-administered northeastern Syria or in any detention facilities.
Gabriel did not say whether there were casualties in the operation to secure the prison adding that none of the prisoners were able to escape.
Kurdish authorities run more than two dozen detention facilities, scattered around northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners, including about 800 Europeans.
The Kurdish-led forces, backed by the U.S-led coalition, declared a military victory against IS in March last year, after seizing control of the last sliver of land the militants had controlled in southeast Syria.
Earlier Monday, a third spokesman for the forces, told The Associated Press that IS militants were still rioting on one of the floors of the prison. Mervan Qamishlo said in a voice message from northeastern Syria that IS “members are still out of control on one of the floors.”
North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Monday that the local police force, known as Asayeh, had detained four IS members who were able to flee the night before
The prison is believed to house foreign IS militants. It is not clear what nationalities were held there.
The U.S-led coalition said it was assisting the SDF with aerial surveillance as they quell the riot. The coalition said in a tweet that the facility holds low level IS members. The coalition said its forces don’t staff any detention facilities in Syria
The Rojava Information Center, an activist collective in the Kurdish-held areas, said the prison in Hassakeh’s southern neighborhood of Ghoeiran houses some 1,000 low-level foreign IS members. It added that the upper levels of the prison hold mostly Syrian IS members.
Bali said late Sunday that the rioters were in full control of the ground floor of the prison and have smashed and removed the prison’s internal doors.
The Kurdish authorities have asked countries to repatriate their nationals, saying keeping thousands of detainees in crammed facilities is putting a strain on their forces.
“These incidents confirm that Syrian Democratic Forces are able to secure Daesh terrorists,” Gabriel said using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS. He added that the incidents also show that the international community should help the SDF to “fully secure” detention facilities and camps hosting families of IS militants.
The families of IS militants and supporters who came out of the last territory controlled by the group are also holed in camps around the Kurdish-controlled areas — the largest one housing nearly 70,000 women and children, many of them foreigners.
Reporting by Bassem Mroue
Image: U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters pose for a photo on a rooftop overlooking Baghouz, Syria, after the SDF declared the area free of Islamic State militants after months of fighting on Saturday, March 23, 2019 (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)