Today, on the seventh anniversary of the liberation of Kobanê following a brutal siege by the Islamic State (ISIS) on 26 January 2015, this genocidal terrorist group is once again re-emerging and posing a serious threat to the peoples of Syria. The Kurdish people and their allies made great sacrifices to eliminate the so-called caliphate of ISIS, with over 12,000 fighters giving their lives in the war to end this threat to regional and global security. Unfortunately, these sacrifices continue.
On 20 January, ISIS carried out an attack on the al-Sina’a prison in the Ghweran neighbourhood of Hasakah in northern Syria in an attempt to free the 5,000 ISIS members held there. This attack, which resulted in the escape of thousands of prisoners, was the largest and most dangerous development in the region since ISIS was defeated in Syria years ago by Kurdish and allied forces. Many of those held in the al-Sina’a prison were ISIS commanders who waged war against regions now under the control of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The goal of the prison break is to destabilize the security situation in the AANES areas and provide an opportunity for ISIS to regain power and territorial control. A primary motivation for this recent incident is the dissatisfaction of many external forces with the democratic model of the AANES, which ensures coexistence and equal representation and participation of the various ethnic and religious communities of North and East Syria in local governance and prioritises gender equality and women’s freedom. The Turkish state has long sought to incite the Arab communities and others in North and East Syria to oppose the AANES, but these efforts have failed time and time again.
On the contrary, support from all local communities has been a source of great strength for the AANES and the local security forces, who have stood strong against the remnants of ISIS and threats from other jihadist terrorist groups.
This large-scale, coordinated prison break took place with support from regional powers. Whilst the Syrian regime assisted by turning a blind eye to ISIS infiltrations, the Turkish state and military provided more active support to this operation by continuing to use fighter jets and drones to target the Kurds and others within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who pursue the escaped terrorists, and by moving several hundred members of Turkish-backed jihadist proxy militia groups from areas under Turkish military occupation, such as Serêkaniye (Ras al-Ayn) and Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), to villages surrounding Hasakah to assist escaped ISIS prisoners.
Since 20 January, SDF forces have been fighting heroically to address this dangerous new development. With many ISIS prisoners still at large and ISIS sleeper cells being activated, the danger is far from over.
The ongoing fight against ISIS and its supporters cannot be left only to the SDF and the political leadership of AANES – it is a threat to global security, and one that involves ISIS members who are citizens of various countries throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
With few exceptions, those countries with citizens among the ISIS captives held in North and East Syria/Rojava have refused to take them back to their home countries to face justice, leaving to the SDF and AANES. Furthermore, the international community has refused to support the establishment of an international tribunal to try ISIS detainees. After benefitting from the sacrifices of the SDF in the war against ISIS, the world powers have left thousands of their citizens in North and East Syria as a ticking time bomb that can explode at any time, as we have just seen. Rather than support the efforts of the SDF and AANES to preserve the victory against ISIS and prevent the re-emergence of this group, they have prioritised maintaining their alliance with the Turkish state, who are openly hostile toward the Kurds of Syria, the SDF, and AANES, and work ceaselessly to destabilise the region through direct military action and support for various jihadist proxy militias.
We once again stress that the Turkish state’s ongoing actions in North and East Syria, including its support for jihadist groups, puts the hard-fought gains made in the war against ISIS at risk. Therefore any state with a sincere desire to end this threat must act immediately and take clear positions against the Turkish regime.
We therefore call on the UN, NATO, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the EU, the African Union, and the Arab League to:
1. Facilitate the repatriation of their citizens who have joined ISIS, or support the establishment of an international tribunal to try them for their crimes,
2. Isolate the Turkish state politically and diplomatically, and/or bring it before an international tribunal for its past and present sponsorship and other support for ISIS, and
3. Increase support for the AANES and grant official recognition to the AANES.
Executive Council of KNK
26 January 2022