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Islamic State fighters chased after prison break in Syria

HASAKAH, Syria — The Following Days The death of the leader of the Islamic StateUS-backed Kurdish-led militias are hunting defectors linked to a prison break in northeastern Syria that the terrorist group launched last month to replenish their dwindling ranks. .

Islamic State fighters have turned up in the city of Hasakah more than two weeks after their prison break, showing how the January 20 attack could have a lasting impact on its ability to regenerate and terrorize the community. surroundings of the group. Prison attack was the Islamic State’s worst offensive in Syria in at least three years, leading to a week-long siege and gunfights that left nearly 500 people dead.

Escape is one of the last acts was directed by the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who detonated the explosives that killed him and his family during a US Special Forces raid in northwestern Syria last Thursday.

Intelligence officials from the United States, Iraq and one European country said Qurayshi was concerned about the lack of combat manpower in recent months. The United Nations estimates ISIS retains at least 6,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria, where it is setting up cells and training special forces to carry out attacks.

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An SDF member shows the hideout in the kitchen of Umm Hussein, where Islamic State members hide in Hasakah.

But with most of the Islamic State’s fighters either in prison or in hiding, much of its force consists of women who have fled Syria’s camps to return to their families, officials said. said.

Umm Hussein, 54, who lives near the prison, said she fled during the fighting and returned home Friday to change the locks before returning. After hearing noises inside, she flung open the door and saw two men dressed in loose Islamic State clothing, black and brown, running from her kitchen to the living room.

She ran outside and called for help. Neighbors crowded outside the house when security forces arrived, grabbed the two men and drove them away in a van.

For Umm Hussein, it was a surreal repetition of the first night of her escape, when members of the Islamic State, including one still wearing an orange prison suit, burst into her home to change her pants. shirt before fleeing into the night.

“I’m scared. I’m worried. That’s all I feel,” she said.

The ongoing manhunt for escaped prisoners shows how successful the escape may have been to a degree far beyond that acknowledged by American officials and their local counterparts. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-dominated militia that controls northeastern Syria with US backing, has yet to disclose how many prisoners are left on the run.

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Security guard Malak Maesh, center, survived the Islamic State attack on the prison.

The SDF says it has killed 374 Islamic State members and taken at least 1,100 prisoners. Between 3,500 and 5,000 prisoners were held before the attack.

As the manhunt continued, the SDF imposed a 6pm curfew and deployed additional security forces, with more trucks and gunmen in balaclavas stationed in public squares as far as Raqqa, 115 miles west of Hasakah.

The Islamic State has used prison breaks to bolster its ranks since the group grew in strength following the uprising against the US-led occupation of Iraq after 2003.

Last month’s attack in Syria caused alarm in Iraq, where officials fear a Syrian prison break could lead to a repeat of the jihadist mass attack at Abu Ghraib prison. in July 2013, became a pivotal moment in the rapid expansion of the Islamic State the following year. , an Iraqi official said.

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SDF forces set up checkpoints in Raqqa to tighten security measures after Islamic State members escaped during their prison break.

Using informants on the ground, Iraqi intelligence increased efforts to track the Qurayshi’s location in Idlib and pass on their findings to counterterrorism officials in the US, Iraqi and Western officials. said.

Western security officials say the next Islamic State leader is likely to come from Iraq, the organization’s birthplace and the country where its cash reserves are located. Qurayshi and his predecessors were also Iraqi.

The prison break in Syria itself is a powerful statement about The Sustainability of the Islamic State. Three suicide car bombs crashed straight into the prison. The prisoners surrounded their guards, beheading some of them, said Malak Maesh, 26, a guard who survived.

Inmates poured into the surrounding area, confirming something Hasakah residents had long feared, that Islamic State members and informants had been hiding from them for months or even years. five.

The two families said Islamic State members, with help from local informants, were scouring the city for local security forces and executing them, some by behead.

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Abdel Qader Azayzi shows a photo of his cousin, who he said was executed by Islamic State members who were hunting security officers in Hasakah.

On the night of January 20, about 20 Islamic State men appeared on the doorstep of Abdel Qader Azayzi, a 29-year-old mechanic who lives near the prison. Accompanying them was a masked man, guiding the warriors as they hunted down the security agents. The man knew him, Mr. Azayzi said.

“Put them away. These men work on cars,” said the masked man, referring to Mr Azayzi and his brother.

Dissatisfied, the gunmen entered the house and began searching the men’s phones. On the phone of Azayzi’s young cousin, Ghassan, they found a picture of him in military uniform. The men dragged Ghassan outside and shot him dead.

“We cannot sleep at night,” Mr. Azayzi said.

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Mr. Azayzi said Islamic State fighters found a picture of his cousin in military uniform on his phone before they killed him.

The attack highlights the US partnership with the SDF, which has been backed by the US in the fight against Islamic State since 2014.

“It shows the limits of the SDF, including its intelligence gathering on communities where ISIS is still active and friction between Arab communities,” said Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Syria. Local Arab and SDF leadership”.

“Without reforming the SDF, ISIS will find a few recruits every week,” he said.

The SDF has denied the claim that it is to blame for the recruitment of the Islamic State, and argues that the world has unfairly given them the burden of guarding. thousands of members, affiliates and their family members. The inmates in Hasakah prison are of at least 20 different nationalities, officials said. Countries around the world often refuse to accept the return of their citizens detained in this facility.

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The SDF has deployed more trucks and gunmen in public squares as far away as Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State; a barricade in Raqqa.

Write letter for Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com and Benoit Faucon at benoit.faucon@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-militants-pursued-after-syria-prison-break-11644257825 Islamic State fighters chased after prison break in Syria

Ethan Gach

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