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 available on the People's Protection Units' (YPG) Press office on March 28, 2021, shows Kurdish YPG forces conducting a security operation at the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp which holds suspected relatives of Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in the northeastern Syrian Hasakeh governorate. Kurdish forces made dozens of arrests in a security operation launched at the camp for suspected family members of Islamic State group militants in northeast Syria, a war monitor and Kurdish officials said. Al-Hol is the largest such settlement controlled by Kurdish authorities, who warn it is emerging as an extremist powder keg following dozens of murders in the camp since the start of the year. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / YPG PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -
 / AFP / YPG Press Office / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / YPG PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -

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.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 3, 2021, people walk at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp which holds suspected relatives of Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in Hasakeh governorate of northeastern Syria. Kurdish authorities launched a security sweep in the camp where they arrested dozens today, a war monitor and Kurdish officials said.
 / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN

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.

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