World

Islamic State says it 'freed' women held by Syrian Kurds in Raqqa as other jihadis escape elsewhere

AFP-JIJI

The Islamic State group said Thursday it had “freed” women held by Syria’s Kurds, the latest in a series of reported breakouts since Turkey launched a cross-border offensive last week.

In a statement released on the Telegram messaging application, IS said it had stormed a security headquarters west of its former stronghold of Raqqa on Wednesday, “freeing Muslim women kidnapped” by Kurdish forces.

It did not give a number or say if the women were IS members or wives of jihadis.

Separately three former IS fighters originally from the Gaza Strip escaped a Kurdish detention center near Tal Abyad close to the Syrian-Turkish border, a source in a political faction in Gaza said.

The three, two of whom were members of the military wing of Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas before joining the more militant IS, called their families Wednesday following their escape but said they did not intend to return home, the source said.

The prospect that thousands of the world’s most fanatic jihadis could break out in the chaos caused by Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria is causing widespread alarm.

European governments fear it could lead to a resurgence of the group that has wreaked havoc through attacks in the West and formerly controlled parts of Syria and Iraq.

According to the Kurds hundreds of IS relatives have already tried to escape since Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

On Sunday, Kurdish authorities said nearly 800 relatives of foreign jihadis had escaped from a Kurdish-run displacement camp in the northern Syrian town of Ain Issa.

At least three French women who had left the camp have since joined up with IS, according to messages they sent to their lawyer, seen by AFP.

Five IS jihadis escaped from a prison near the northeastern city of Qamishli last week, according to Kurdish forces.

On Tuesday, a breakout attempt was foiled in the infamous Al-Hol camp, which is so overcrowded that wardens are struggling to control riots.

According to the Kurdish administration, there are around 12,000 suspected IS fighters in the custody of Kurdish security forces across prisons in northeastern Syria.

At least 2,500 of them are non-Iraqi foreigners of more than 50 different nationalities. Tunisia is thought to have the biggest contingent.

The detained fighters have thousands of relatives — mostly women and children — held in displacement camps.

Al-Hol alone holds 68,000 prisoners, mostly relatives of current or former IS members, according to the United Nations.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Wednesday they were suspending operations against IS.

“We have frozen all our actions against Daesh,” SDF head Mazloum Abdi told Kurdish television channel Ronahi, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadis.

The SDF, which helped defeat IS with the support of the U.S.-led coalition, said it would only carry out defensive operations.