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Northeast Syria: Help Detainees from Recaptured ISIS-Held Prison

International Action Needed to Resolve Broader Detention Crisis

(Beirut) – Kurdish-led regional fighters backed by US and UK military forces recaptured a prison in northeast Syria that Islamic State (ISIS) fighters had held for six days on January 26, 2022. At least 284 people died during the assault and counterattacks, according to the regional fighters, called the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The regional fighters said that 250 “attackers” were killed along with 27 members of their own forces and 7 civilians. They said the number of prisoner deaths was unknown. Human Rights Watch and humanitarian organizations received firsthand accounts and other reports that several imprisoned children were among the dead and wounded.

The Sinai prison in Ghweran, near the city of al-Hasakah, held about 3,500 men and boys with alleged ISIS links. They included up to 2,000 foreigners from dozens of countries, most rounded up during the final major military operations against ISIS in northeast Syria in February and March 2019. About 700 of the prisoners were boys, some as young as 12.

The following statement on the prison incident may be attributed to Letta Tayler, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch:

“The Kurdish-led forces’ recapture of the prison ends this immediate deadly ordeal, but the broader crisis involving these prisoners is far from over. The US-led coalition and others involved need to quickly ensure that all prisoners, especially the wounded, ill, and children, are safe and receive food, water, and medical care. The coalition should also investigate whether its forces complied with the laws of war, including by taking all feasible measures to protect civilians.”

“Recapturing the prison does not resolve the indefinite detention without due process of nearly 45,000 foreign ISIS suspects and family members, most of them young children, in deeply degrading, often inhumane, and life-threatening conditions in prisons and locked camps in northeast Syria. The ISIS assault should be a wakeup call to home countries that it is long past time for them to bring their nationals home for reintegration and rehabilitation and, as appropriate, investigation and prosecution. Holding men, women, and children in these conditions is unconscionable, unlawful, and denies victims justice for ISIS crimes.”

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