Recap: Prison Break in Hassakeh

Although the SDF emerged victorious from the Ghweran prison assault, ISIS was able to show that it did not say its last word yet.

ISIS is not dead. The events of the Sina’a prison, in the Ghweran neighborhood of al-Hassakeh, are the perfect indicator that the Islamist terror group, that ruled over a wide self-proclaimed caliphate between Syria and Iraq up until 2019, when the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS declared the group’s “territorial defeat”, is resurging. 

On Thursday the 20th,  an assault by more than 100 ISIS fighters on the SDF-run Ghweran jail in Hassakeh — which housed the largest number of jihadists in the country —  was the group’s most significant operation since 2019. It was aimed at freeing fighters, but resulted in deadly clashes that killed hundreds, the London-based pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat reported. Most of those who fled were recaptured. 

The next day, and after the SDF’s top military commander, Mazloum Abdi, said ISIS mobilized “most of its sleeper cells” to organize the prison break, the U.S.-led International Coalition bombed sites in Hassakeh, the pan-Arab al-Araby al-Jadeed claimed. A source close to the SDF told the publication that the coalition planes had targeted the Economics Faculty of the Hassakeh campus of al-Furat University, where ISIS fighters had taken up positions, causing significant damage to the building.

Hammer of the People

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, quickly issued a statement, claiming the danger of ISIS is increasing day by day and called for more international cooperation to confront this danger, according to the Kurdish Agency North Press.  The presence of the U.S., its main partner in the fight against ISIS, is crucial for the SDF, as it shields it from a military campaign by the regime or Turkey.

And in fact, the SDF, via the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), accused Turkey of being behind the resurgence of ISIS in the region. “Turkey has worked day and night, through its radical mercenaries, polluted with ISIS ideology, to destabilize security and stability and try to foil the democratic project of the AANES,” a statement reported by the North Press said. Meanwhile, the SDF continued to comb al-Sina’a prison in the Ghweran neighborhood of al-Hassakeh, announcing its control of new dormitories inside the prison, amid reports of ongoing negotiations with ISIS, al-Souria Net, an opposition website, wrote. The SDF media center added in a statement that 250 members of ISIS surrendered and left the prison without their weapons, bringing the number of surrenders to 550 as of Tuesday. Several members of the organization are still holed up in one of the prison buildings. On Wednesday, 6 days after the ISIS assault, the SDF announced that it fully controls the al-Sina’a prison. Farhad Shami, the media spokesman for the SDF, tweeted “the culmination of the military campaign (hammer of the people) with full control of the Sina’a prison in Hassakeh by our forces and the surrender of all ISIS militants,” according to al-Souria Net.   

However, as the fighting intensified, the UN children agency UNICEF voiced concern over reports of the death of children in the al-Sina’a prison. A statement released by Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said all parties to the conflict in Syria should bear responsibilities to spare civilians and those who do not carry arms, and they should give priority to the safety of all the children inside the Ghweran prison, North Press reported

In an op-ed to Asharq al-Awsat, Turkish diplomat Omer Onhon affirmed that the events in Syria are the proof that the war is far from over, despite Assad pretending that he is the victor.

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