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ISIS Prisoners Released Because … Corona?

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Syrians climb atop a Turkish tank in protest. Turkey has used the situation in Syria to attack the Syrian Kurds. The Syrian Defense Forces, led by Kurds, say that containing ISIS prisoners puts an undue burden on them in their fight for survival (Photo: AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images)
Syrians climb atop a Turkish tank in protest. Turkey has used the situation in Syria to attack the Syrian Kurds. The Syrian Defense Forces, led by Kurds, say that containing ISIS prisoners puts an undue burden on them in their fight for survival (Photo: AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images)

The Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) released more than 90 ISIS prisoners  from four different prisons, saying the measure was taken as a precaution to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

However, they reported no cases of the disease as yet in the prisons, making the release questionable.

The SDF announced that the prisoners (who were all from Syria) were only released after the SDF received a “guarantee” from the elders of the clans in the area that the released ISIS prisoners would pose no threat.

However, some of the released prisoners have reportedly returned to their villages, a worrisome development for local residents.

Already three months ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the SDF of releasing ISIS prisoners for money.

This accusation was vehemently denied by SDF Commander-in-Chief Ferhat Abdi Sahin who stated, “The report from Mr. Lavrov is not accurate. There is almost a daily coordination between our forces and the international forces, including America and Russia, regarding the prisoners’ fates.

“We have managed to deal with these prisoners in a way that safeguards the international community even though we have limited resources and face a threat from Turkey concerning the safety of the holding facility.”

ISIS prisoners have also recently escaped from a different SDF facility in Syria, according to reports coming out of the area. Prisoners ripped off doors and used them to break down internal walls in a riot that saw ISIS fighters successfully taking over the entire first floor of the facility.

An unknown number of prisoners, whose identities are still unknown, managed to escape the prison while security forces struggled to regain control of the facility.

The SDF is currently holding an estimated 11-12,000 ISIS prisoners.

The international community has continually called for the SDF to take responsibility for the ISIS prisoners. The SDF has countered, saying that the prisoners put an untenable burden on them, especially at a time when their very lives are threatened by Turkey.

Syria has only reported a total of eight cases and one death in the country due to the coronavirus, which sounds unreasonable considering the amount of travel that continually takes place between Syria and Iran, one of the hot spots of the virus.

However, it is likely that there is tremendous pressure on the Syrian government from the Iranian regime to keep silent about the country’s real numbers.

One thing in this equation is simple: ISIS prisoners, both the released and those that have escaped, will be returning to spots were the terror group is still active and viable, adding to their numbers and force.

One way or another, we can assume that ISIS is on the rise in Syria.

 

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Ran Meir

Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst and a Shillman Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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