The Daesh time bomb ticking in Syria



April 07, 2023

Men suspected of being Daesh group fighters walk together towards a screening point in Deir Ezzor province, Syria. (AFP)
Men suspected of being Daesh group fighters walk together towards a screening point in Deir Ezzor province, Syria. (AFP)

The world is beginning to forget about the history of the terrorist organisation Daesh, which is rarely discussed on international forums and in the media — but that does not mean that the threat from this malign organization is over.

Syria and Iraq are the main Daesh hotspots, and Al-Sinaa prison in Syria holds the largest concentration of Daesh members and their families worldwide. It is also where the next generation will carry forward this dangerous ideology.

The prison is in Ghweran district south of the city of Hasakah in northeast Syria, and is one of the largest prisons in the city. It is run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who control large areas of northeast Syria.

The prison is called Al-Sinaa (“industry”) because it was a school of industrial sciences before the SDF converted it into a jail for Daesh members in 2017. Its safety and security cannot be guaranteed because theSDF oversee and protect it in an unstable situation, and fear any disturbance in the areas under their control.

Eight other prisons in northeast Syria hold Daesh members. They are a ticking time bomb. Yes,victory over Daesh was declared and its members imprisoned, but they are plotting to relocate and restore their organization.

Last year, Daesh attacked Al-Sinaa from inside and outside. The attack was the largest of its kind since the fall of the city of Al-Baghouz in Deir Ezzor province on March 23, 2019, marking the fall of the so-called Islamic State.

While this was not the first such prison attack and escape attempt — many Daesh inmates escaped in 2020 by breaking down doors and smashing walls — fears are growing that attacks on prisons could become more frequent and free more Daesh members. About 15,000 Daesh fighters from more than 50 countries are still held in prisons and detention camps in northern Syria.

Security loopholes in prisons confirm the danger of Daesh members being held captive for long periods without a permanent solution to the problem. The failure of the international community, especially Western countries, to deal with the Daesh prisoners and their families creates opportunities for the group to reinvent itself.

Urgent action is needed to dismantle these prisons and repatriate their inmates to their countries of origin. Their countries are responsible for taking them back, prosecuting them and rehabilitating their families.

Daesh family members, including women and children, are held in camps such as Al-Hol and Al-Raj, surrounded by guards and barbed wire, with no opportunity to rehabilitate the children in a way that prevents them from being raised in an extremist ideology. According to CENTCOM, the US military HQ in the Middle East, children in Al-Hol “are daily exposed to indoctrination into violence,” and teenagers who are foreign nationals “have expressed a desire to return to their country of origin.”

Gen. Michael Kurilla, head of CENTCOM, visited several detention centers in northern Syria last month, including Al-Sinaa prison. “Between those detained in Syria and Iraq, it is a veritable Daesh army in detention,” he said. “If freed, this group would pose a great threat regionally and beyond.”

Daesh hopes to establish control over territory, resume its status and make the organization once again “Islamic state.”

The SDF played a significant role in dismantling Daesh and overthrowing its “caliphate.” However, theycannot be held responsible for protecting prisons indefinitely. The SDF fears a return to fighting with Turkey, which does not want Kurdish influence on its borders.

Turkey has repeatedly accused the SDF of using these prisons to pressure the international community intodeterring Turkey from another military incursion into northern Syria. On the other hand, the SDF believes that many Daesh members have entered Syrian territory through the Turkish border.

Regardless of the mutual accusations, it is impossible to believe that these jails are permanent solutions. Most of the prisoners are prominent leaders who held high positions during Daesh’s control of areas in Syria, others have combat and terrorist backgrounds.

According to the UN Security Council, Daesh already has about 10,000 fighters roaming free in Syria and Iraq. Such a large number confirms that a Daesh resurgence is likely, especially if most countries fail to act.

The clock is ticking. The world cannot afford to ignore the threats to security and stability posed by Daesh prisons and camps.

• Ghassan Ibrahim is a British-Syrian journalist and researcher on Middle East issues, most notably Turkiye, Syria and Iran. He can be reached at

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


Categories: Arab World, Asia, Middle East, Syria

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