The al-Hol camp for displaced people in Syria is a jihadist threat and should be dismantled, a senior Iraqi security official said on Saturday.
Al-Hol, in the Kurdish-controlled northeast, is Syria’s largest camp for displaced people. It houses about 56,000 including displaced Syrians and Iraqi refugees, some of whom maintain links with the Islamic State group (ISIS).
About 10,000 are foreigners, including relatives of jihadists.
“Each day that passes with the camp still there, hate grows and terrorism thrives,” Iraq’s national security adviser, Qassem al-Araji, told an international conference about the camp.
ISIS “continues to represent a real threat at al-Hol,” Araji told delegates who included ambassadors from the United States and France.
The overcrowded camp is controlled by the autonomous Kurdish administration and lies less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from the Iraqi border.
Araji called on foreign governments to repatriate their citizens from al-Hol, and urged rapid dismantlement of the camp.
Most of al-Hol’s residents are people who fled or surrendered in Syria during the dying days of ISIS’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in March 2019.
Since then, Syria’s Kurds and the United Nations have repeatedly urged foreign governments to repatriate their nationals, but this has only been done in dribs and drabs, out of fear that they might pose a security threat back home and trigger a domestic backlash.
Baghdad proclaimed victory against ISIS at the end of 2017 but remnants of the group have continued to mount hit-and-run attacks.
In January, ISIS fighters carried out their biggest assault in Syria in years, attacking a prison in the Kurdish-controlled northeastern city of Hassakeh, aiming to free fellow jihadists.
Almost a week of intense fighting left more than 370 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
Prisons run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces hold an estimated 12,000 ISIS members, and the group aims to mount further operations similar to the January attack in a bid to free them, Araji said.
Since that assault, Iraq has begun building a concrete wall along the border in an effort to stop jihadist infiltration.