ISIS prison riot ends after talks in north-east Syria

Syrian Democratic Forces call for greater support from US-led coalition after militants took control of Hassakeh prison for two days

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 26, 2019,  men, accused of being affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, sit on the floor in a prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh. As it enters its tenth year, the war in Syria is anything but abating as foreign powers scrap over a ravaged country where human suffering keeps reaching new levels. / AFP / FADEL SENNA
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Imprisoned ISIS members rioted and took control of a prison in north-east Syria for several hours, until Kurdish-led authorities negotiated an end to the unrest.

The riot began on Saturday in the city of Hassakeh, which has one of the largest prisons where ISIS members are held. Control was re-established on Sunday evening, said Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

A two-day riot and takeover of the same prison in late March allowed four extremists to escape, although they were caught a day later.

It was one of the most serious uprisings by prisoners since ISIS was defeated a year ago, when the SDF seized control of the last sliver of land controlled by the extremists in eastern Syria.

Kurdish authorities operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across north-east Syria, holding about 10,000 ISIS fighters. Among those detained are about 2,000 foreign fighters whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

Mr Gabriel said SDF officials and members of the US-led coalition took part in talks with the prisoners.

He said that at the height of the riots Kurdish special forces and anti-terror units took part in the operations to try to get the situation under control. He gave no further details and did not say how many prisoners were involved or whether there were any casualties.

US military helicopters flew over the prison on Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, and North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas.

Mr Gabriel said the US-led coalition and the international community had a responsibility to find solutions for issues involving imprisoned ISIS members and needed to give more support to improve security and conditions at the prisons.

A recent resurgence of ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq has raised concerns the group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos.

It was not immediately clear whether Sunday’s riot was triggered by concerns about the potential spread of the virus in the prison.

Last month, the US-led coalition said it gave hygiene and medical supplies to detention facilities across north-east Syria, including hand-washing stations, disinfectant wipes, face masks and examination gloves.

One coronavirus death was reported in Kurdish-held areas of Syria in April. The central government in Damascus has registered 43 Covid-19 cases and three deaths.