Kurdish-led forces in Syria say they have regained full control of a prison in northeastern Syria, a week after a breakthrough by ISIS militants killed dozens.
Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the US-backed force, said on Twitter on Wednesday that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had taken over Al-Sinaa – or Guwairan – prison in the city of Hasaka.
The days of operations “culminated with all our control” over the prison, he said, adding that all other ISIS fighters surrendered hours after 500 surrendered after clashes in some buildings.
The brazen attempt to escape ISIS prison and subsequent clashes have left more than 180 dead in the armed group’s most famous military operation since the loss of their so-called caliphate nearly three years ago.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based military observer, the dead include about 124 ISIS fighters, 50 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians. However, the death toll could rise as Kurdish forces and medical services gain access to all parts of the prison after the attack.
Kurdish forces have stopped food and water in prison for two days to pressure ISIL fighters to surrender, the observatory said.
The prison was believed to hold approximately 3,500 ISIL detainees when the initial attack was first launched on January 20 in vehicles loaded with explosives driven by suicide bombers.
With the intervention of the United States and other foreign forces in support of Kurdish elites, the area around the prison was secured and the besieged fighters in the prison began to surrender.
The statement did not mention the 850 children and minors caught in the crossfire when the SDF began storming the prison on Monday.
The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations have expressed concern about the fate of juveniles living with nearly 5,000 prisoners in the overcrowded prison.
The prison is the largest facility where the SDF holds thousands of detainees. Relatives of many prisoners say they have been arrested on frivolous charges of resisting SDF conscription.
The Kurdish-led group has denied the allegations.
Thousands of Hasaka residents, meanwhile, have been forced to flee their homes after at least 100 ISIS fighters stormed the facility last Thursday, their biggest demonstration of force in years.
In a mosque safe from chaos, hundreds of women and children huddled together in the bitter cold of winter.
“We want to go home,” Maya, a 38-year-old mother who tried in vain to reassure her youngest, told AFP, adding that “there is no bread, water or sugar here.”
Many Kurdish officials, as well as Western observers, have warned that the escape from prison should serve as a wake-up call.
Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have long criticized Kurdish-led forces that control large parts of northeastern Syria for keeping children in overcrowded makeshift prisons in inhumane conditions.
Kurdish authorities say more than 50 nationalities are represented in Kurdish-run prisons with more than 12,000 ISIS suspects. They have long warned that they do not have the capacity to detain, let alone prosecute, all ISIS fighters captured during the years of operations.
“This issue is an international problem,” Abdulkarim Omar, a senior foreign policy official, told AFP on Wednesday. “We can’t do it alone.”
He called on the international community to “support the Autonomous Administration to improve security and humanitarian conditions for detainees in detention centers and overcrowded camps”.