Teenage prisoners found among 500 killed in Syria prison attack

AL-Hasakah, Syria – The boy had dark brown hair covered in white dust, and on his chin were the soft beginnings of a beard.

On Sunday, his body and that of another young man were found dumped on a dirt road behind a prison in northeastern Syria, where a Kurdish-led force, backed by the US military, fought for more than a week to quell an attempt by Islamic State. Armed men to liberate former fighters held there.

The discovery of the bodies was the first confirmation that at least two of them reach 700 teenage boys were held in prison Because they were the sons of Islamic State fighters, they were killed in the fighting.

The leader of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which runs the prison, acknowledged on Monday that “very few” of the boys had been killed.

“Some escaped with the adults,” the commander, known by his nom de guerre Mazloum Kobani, said in an interview, which was his first since the siege began. “Either they were rearrested or they were killed.”

According to the “SDF”, some of them were held hostage during the prison siege

On Monday, a more comprehensive account of the ISIS siege, the efforts of Kurdish-led militias and US forces to put it down, emerged a day after the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, emerged. He regained full control of the industrial prison in the city of Al-Hasakah.

The SDF said about 500 had been killed, including 374 linked to Islamic State. The death toll also included about 40 SDF fighters, 77 prison staff and guards, and four civilians.

The group also said that ISIS fighters who attacked the prison used sleeping cells to aid in the attack, and that the assault on the prison was part of a larger plot also to attack giant concentration camps in the same area that house tens of thousands of people. Most of them are the wives and children of ISIS fighters, and the city of Raqqa, which was once the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State caliphate.

The boys had been held in al-Hasakah prison for three years as the international community debated what to do with them.

The SDF said their ties to the Islamic State make them dangerous, and some elderly people may have been trained to fight, while human rights organizations consider them victims, children are being brought into the Islamic State without any choice on their part.

Both groups demanded that the children’s countries of origin be repatriated.

Kobani, the SDF commander, said he had been asking the international community for three years to build rehabilitation centers in his impoverished area. Without better facilities or unless their countries took them back, he said, there was no other place than prison to put them.

The bodies of the two boys seen by the New York Times on Sunday were lying on a dirt road with the remains of four other bodies, all dismembered. Everyone seemed to have been shot.

One is still wearing socks made from the gray blankets used in the prison. Fragments of an orange prison uniform were scattered nearby.

Some neighborhood residents kicked the corpses as they passed, in an expression of the deep hatred many residents of this area hold toward ISIS.

Neighborhood residents said the boys were among a group of escaped prisoners, mostly Iraqis, who were killed on Friday by the SDF as its forces moved door to door to track down ISIS fighters.

“The poor children have turned them into soldiers,” said one of the neighbors, who did not give her name out of fear for her safety. “We wish they would take them away.”

It was not clear whether the boys had sought to escape with the ISIS fighters or if they were still being held hostage by them. Several residents said they did not see the boys or the escaped prisoners alive and did not know if any of them were armed.

Kobani said all the boys were trained ISIS fighters, an assertion that human rights groups contest. He said the boys ranged in age from 15 to 17 years.

He also appeared to have been shocked by a Sunday Times report of at least 80 bodies being dumped from a front loader in the street and then dumped in a gravel truck for transport to a mass grave.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of it,” said Mr. Kobani. “If this happens, it is a sin.”

The US-led military coalition in northeastern Syria was asked about the dead boys and the bodies being dumped, both describing the “unfortunate reality” of the war.

The coalition said in a statement: “The Syrian Democratic Forces used the appropriate amount of lethal force to confront the attack and suppress the uprising of the detainees.” They repeatedly tried to negotiate a complete surrender, and used the necessary force to respond to hostilities.

“Although the images seen by the New York Times are disturbing, it is an unfortunate reality in armed conflict where there are significant casualties and measures must be taken to limit the spread of disease,” the statement added.

The streets around the prison were littered with rubble from homes destroyed by security forces who used armored bulldozers and combat vehicles to kill ISIS fighters and escaped prisoners who refused to surrender. Residents said they saw armored vehicles flying American flags participating in the operations.

The prison attack attracted US forces and turned into the biggest battle between the US military and ISIS in the three years since the group lost the last remnants of its so-called caliphate, a swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq. The United States conducted air strikes, provided intelligence and ground forces in Bradley Fighting Vehicles to support the efforts of the SDF.

Abu Jassem, another resident who lives in the neighborhood behind the prison, said he returned home on Friday and found four escaped inmates there in prison uniforms.

They said come and sit. do you know us? I said: You are the Islamic state. They told me to sit down and do not interfere.

Abu Jassem said that two of the prisoners escaped from Iraq and the other from Chechnya. They told him not to be afraid and that they would leave when it got dark. Convince them to let him leave the house.

Their presence was reported to the Syrian Democratic Forces, who arrived shortly after with bulldozers.

“They started hitting the walls until the house fell,” he said.

Their four bodies were the ones that were later seen in the street near the bodies of the two boys.

The SDF said that based on captured ISIS documents and confessions of captured ISIS leaders, they determined that the prison attack was part of a much larger plan. If it had succeeded, the SDF said, the group would have attacked neighboring neighborhoods, Raqqa, and the sprawling al-Hol prison camp, which holds an estimated 60,000 family members of ISIS fighters.

Al-Hol camp, about 40 miles from Hasaka, is the main internment camp set up to house families of ISIS fighters held after the fall of the caliphate three years ago.

SDF factions are securing both the outside and the inside of the camp but do not have enough guards to be able to combat the increased ISIS activity there, including repeated killings. Kobani said he requested more US and coalition support to secure al-Hol camp and other detention camps and prisons.

The camp and prison are located in an isolated and impoverished splinter area in northeastern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces have struggled to maintain control of both and have long warned that they cannot safely guard them.

Among the camp’s residents are several thousand foreign women and children whose countries of origin have refused to allow them to return. They live in unsanitary conditions, children die there from malnutrition and lack of medical care.

One resident who lives near the prison, a Syrian government employee named Hassoun, said groups of armed ISIS fighters stormed his home Friday morning and again that night.

Hassoun, who asked that his first name only be released out of fear for his safety, said the gunmen took his phone, and flipped through it to see if he was a member of the security forces. He said that all the militants are Iraqis.

“They were complaining about the internet — they said the Syrian internet is slow,” Hassoun said.

He said that once, one of the gunmen opened the door to inspect the street and said, “There is a dead infidel.”

One of Hassoun’s neighbors, he was shot by ISIS fighters after they found a picture of him in an SDF uniform during compulsory military service. His relatives identified him as Ghassan Awaf Al-Anzi, 20 years old.

“It was terrifying,” Hassoun said. “I was just praying for the sun to rise.”

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