Syria's Kurds snare senior ISIS recruiter in refugee camp search

Mobile phones and military uniforms seized as authorities crack down on extremist activities in Al Hol

An image grab from a video made released by the YPG shows security forces conducting searches at Al Hol. AFP Photo / YPG Press Office
An image grab from a video made released by the YPG shows security forces conducting searches at Al Hol. AFP Photo / YPG Press Office

Kurdish authorities in Syria have arrested an ISIS leader and confiscated phones and computers during a raid on extremist sleeper cells operating in the Al Hol refugee camp.

Abu Saad Al Iraqi, a wanted recruiter for the extremist group, was detained along with eight others during large scale operations at the camp aimed at thwarting its resurgence in Syria’s restive north-east.

More than 5,000 soldiers from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish militia responsible for the camp’s security, were deployed to Al Hol at the weekend.

At least 47 people have been murdered in the camp so far this year, in a marked deterioration of security at the site which houses the families of ISIS members.

SDF sources told The National that during the weekend sweep they uncovered more than 200 mobile phones, four military uniforms, a laptop, and five hard drives.

Local media also reported that an unfinished tunnel hidden beneath one of the tents in the camp had been discovered.

The Kurdish-run camp holds suspected relatives of ISIS fighters, as well as displaced people. AFP
The Kurdish-run camp holds suspected relatives of ISIS fighters, as well as displaced people. AFP

Some 1,700 people over the age of 15 also had their biometric data registered as authorities continue to survey the demographics of camp residents.

The makeshift encampment at Al Hol was filled with more than 60,000 people who poured out of Baghouz, the border town where ISIS made its last stand, in 2019.

Videos of the raid released by the SDF showed columns of heavily armed soldiers and armoured trucks rolling into the camp as the sun rose on Sunday.

The camp has seen a steady rise in violence in recent months, as Kurdish authorities plead with foreign governments to take back their nationals associated with the extremist group.

On a recent visit to Al Hol, camp authorities told The National that ISIS is active within the camp and that the group has smuggled weapons and mobile phones into the camp.

They warned that the group may be using the relative haven of Al Hol to plan escapes and attacks outside of Syria.

Much of the search took place in the local section of the camp, a larger part where more than 50,000 Syrians and Iraqis are held.

Security is tighter in the annex – the small section reserved for foreign ISIS fighters.

The Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) were also involved in the raid.

The US-led coalition against ISIS said it was providing its SDF partners with "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance" support, though SDF sources said that Americans were not present in the camp during the raid.

"The purpose of this SDF operation is to degrade and disrupt Daesh activities within the camp," coalition spokesperson Wayne Marotto told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

Updated: April 1, 2021 12:47 PM

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