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US-Backed SDF Clash with Islamic State During Operations in Al-Hol Camp, Jihadists Retaliate by Executing 6 PKK Fighters
On September 11, the Islamic State (IS) in Syria ambushed six alleged PKK fighters, took them to a secluded area, put them up against a wall, and shot them dead execution-style. IS published statements about it and released a video of the killings, declaring “This operation came as part of the ongoing revenge for the Muslim women prisoners in al-Hol Camp and the revenge will continue, and all praise is due to Allah.” The Islamic State’s execution of PKK fighters was widely celebrated in vast numbers of Telegram channels monitored by Militant Wire.
The killings come as retaliation for a recent series of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) raids on the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in Syria that has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of suspected Islamic State operatives. Al-Hol is a refugee camp known to contain violent IS elements and is a hub for illicit jihadist financing and smuggling networks. Al-Hol camp holds an estimated 55,000 people with a sizable number of Islamic State fighters’ family members and other sympathizers.
The operations were carried out by the SDF and supported by their American allies. The US military identified the targets through tips and intelligence activities, then relayed these to the SDF for coordinated action. Amidst the operations, two SDF fighters were killed on September 8 during a clash with a group of seven Islamic State militants who attempted to escape the camp.
General Michael “Erik” Kurilla of US Central Command visited al-Hol on September 9 and provided a stark assessment.
We’ve already seen ISIS members holding women and girls enslaved in chains inside the camp, torturing camp residents, and seeking to spread their vile ideology. Most of the residents seek to escape ISIS, but ISIS sees the camp as a captive audience for its message and recruitment efforts. It is therefore urgent that we repatriate residents back to their countries of origin and rehabilitate them if needed.
Also bluntly stating:
ISIS seeks to exploit these horrific conditions. With approximately 80 births in the camp each month, this place is a literal breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS. Approximately 70 percent of the population is under the age of 12. These young people are vulnerable to radicalization given their very poor quality of life.
The plight of Islamic State families languishing in detention camps throughout the region is a fundamental issue for the Islamic State organization and the broader movement. Whole Telegram channels and social media pages are devoted to the cause of supporting these families through fundraising, provision of materials, and even smuggling individuals out of the camps.
The importance of this cause is also reflected in and intertwined with the operational priority placed on freeing imprisoned Islamic State fighters. IS launched the “Breaking the Walls” campaign and has sieged prisons in several countries — at times successfully springing scores of fighters as seen recently in the Congo and Nigeria.
Threats emanating from these camps and posed by IS raids on prisons will continue to pose a threat in Syria, the broader region, and beyond. The days-long Islamic State siege on the prison complex in Hasakah’s southern Ghweiran neighborhood in January served as a brutal reminder of the regional risks inherent to overcrowded holding facilities containing high numbers of IS sympathizers.
And just today, the Islamic State’s Al-Furqan released a statement from spokesman Abu Umar al-Mujahir in which he lauded the July prison break in Nigeria and the August prison break in the DRC. He also vowed further such operations to free Muslims as a “main priority” going forward.