AMMAN, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Kurdish-led forces said they raided part of a prison seized by Islamic State fighters in northeastern Syria and forced at least 300 of the militants to surrender on Monday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, said militants were still holed up in other buildings, and plans were underway to clear the rest of the detention complex in Hasaka city.
“The operations to break into the prison have begun,” one SDF source said. Another said allies in a U.S.-led coalition were involved in the “ongoing operations” without elaborating.
At least 180 inmates and militants and 27 security forces have died since Islamic State fighters attacked the jail on Thursday in a bid to free their members, officials have said. read more
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said militants holed up in parts of the prison and in the vicinity engaged in violent clashes with Kurdish fighters on Monday for a fifth consecutive day.
The group did not mention any losses in its ranks and claimed on affiliated Telegram accounts that its militants killed and injured a number of the Kurdish fighters.
The SDF initially said it had thwarted the prison breakout, but later acknowledged that inmates had taken over parts of the facility.
The United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) called late on Sunday for the evacuation of the nearly 850 children held in the complex with the militants and their families, saying their safety was at “immediate risk”. read more
SDF officials declined to go into further details on their planned operation.
“Very sensitive developments are taking place regarding ending the mutiny of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State) mercenaries,” SDF spokesman Farhad Shami said in a tweet.
Arab tribal figures in touch with relatives said they feared the death toll was much higher than figures released by the SDF.
Residents said thousands of families had fled since security services raided the surrounding Ghweiran neighbourhood to search for freed prisoners.
The jail is the largest among several publicly known ones where the SDF holds suspected militants and other detainees in what aids groups say are overcrowded and inhumane conditions.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the SDF holds a total of about 12,000 men and boys suspected of Islamic State affiliation, including 2,000 to 4,000 foreigners from almost 50 countries.
Elders say support for Islamic State has grown with rising local resentment against the Kurdish-led administration they accuse of discriminating against the majority Arab population it rules, many of whom reject its policy of forcible conscription.
The Syrian Kurdish forces deny the accusations and say their rule redresses injustices as an oppressed minority during decades of Arab nationalist rule from Damascus.