Cash-strapped Kurdish forces release ISIS-linked detainees

Amina Omar, the head of the Syrian National Council, told reporters that the ISIS members who were released have “no blood on their hands” and are “people who can be reformed.”
Friday 16/10/2020
Men suspected of having collaborated with the Islamic State (IS) group, leave the Kurdish-run Alaya prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, following their release on October 15. (AFP)
Men suspected of having collaborated with the Islamic State (IS) group, leave the Kurdish-run Alaya prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, following their release on October 15. (AFP)

BEIRUT – The Kurdish-led forces controlling north-east Syria freed Thursday more than 600 Syrian prisoners detained over links to ISIS.

The 631 detainees had been held on terrorism charges and were the first batch released in an amnesty deal announced recently following calls from Arab tribes in eastern Syria.

Amina Omar, the head of the Syrian National Council, told reporters that the ISIS members who were released have “no blood on their hands” and have all repented joining ISIS at some point.

“They are people who can be reformed,” Omar said shortly before the men were freed.

The Syrian Democratic Council said the 631 prisoners were released Thursday while 253 others will have their terms cut in half. It said the amnesty and the release followed requests by tribal leaders in north-eastern and eastern Syria.

Kurdish authorities currently operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across north-eastern Syria, holding about 10,000 ISIS fighters.

Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

The fate of foreigners has been a diplomatic hot potato.

“All those who were freed are Syrians,” Amina Omar, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, one of the autonomous administration’s top bodies, said at a news conference in the town of Qamishli.

Those who were freed on Thursday have served at least half of their sentence and were found to have no blood on their hands, she said.

The releases came after repeated calls from the Arab tribes that dominate much of the region administered by the Kurds, including the areas near the Iraqi border where ISIS made its bloody last stand in 2019.

Reporters outside the Alaya detention facility in the outskirts of Qamishli saw dozens of detainees leave the premises and reunite with relatives who had come to meet them.

“My brother has been in jail for eight months for women trafficking in Al-Hol camp,” Ahmad al-Hussein said, in reference to the largest detention facility in the region.

Al-Hol alone shelters more than 60,000 people, including 24,300 Syrians either captured or displaced by fighting, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The cost of maintaining such detention facilities is a burden the cash-strapped Kurdish administration is seeking to alleviate with mass releases.

The deal could also boost laborious cooperation between the Kurdish forces and the Arab tribes that purvey a significant proportion in the military alliance controlling the area.