The prison at the center of the fighting in northeastern Syria was never intended as a prison.
Built years ago as a training institute, the complex was taken over by the Kurdish-led militia, which collaborated with the United States and other nations to fight Islamic State.
When the so-called caliphate of the jihadists collapsed several years ago and its warriors were captured, this militia, known as the Syrian democratic forces, fortified the Sinaa prison in the city of Hasaka with higher walls, heavy metal doors and bars and put its prisoners. there.
They have been there, and in other temporary locks in the area, ever since, because no one knows what to line up with them.
Many of the approximately 3,500 men in prison were warriors, and some have long-term injuries. They reflect the international features of the Islamic State, and they come from all over the world, and most of their countries have refused to take them back. A separate part of the area houses about 700 boys who are children of suspected members of ISIS and were also captured when the caliphate collapsed.
The Kurdish-led officials who control the area have said it is not their job to bring the men to justice, and since no one else wants to, the prisoners have been stuck in limbo – that is, until Islamic State fighters attacked the area on Thursday. . to try to break them out. They used suicide bombers to blow up the gates and took control of about a quarter of the plant.
Terrorism experts and US officials have warned of the dangers of keeping so many former ISIS fighters in an unstable region under the control of an ad hoc administration that lacks the resources to keep the place safe.
This week’s matches only reinforced these concerns.
As of Tuesday, at least 30 SDF fighters had been killed in fighting in and around the jail along with about 200 ISIS attackers and prisoners, said Farhad Shami, an SDF spokesman.
It is unclear how many prisoners have managed to escape. And SDF officials have said ISIS fighters in part of the jail are using the boys as human shields.
During a visit to the prison in 2019, reporters for The New York Times saw hundreds of men, many of them emaciated and wounded, dressed in orange jumpsuits and stuffed into overcrowded cells. The interviewees either denied that they had been in Islamic State or claimed to have had non-violent jobs as teachers or cooks.
Human rights organizations have criticized Western governments for not repatriating their citizens from northeastern Syria, comparing their indefinite detention without trial to the situation of men in the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
In addition to the men imprisoned, tens of thousands of others, mostly women and children detained when the caliphate collapsed, are being held in nearby camps, which aid groups have warned are unhygienic and act as jihadist recruitment centers.