Problems at al-Hol camp in Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria continue to grow. Countries refuse to repatriate their female citizens who are associated with ISIS, and the most radical female ISIS members are killing women who have abandoned the terrorist organization’s extremist ideology.
Most of the women associated with ISIS who reside in this camp are either the wives or widows of ISIS fighters who were killed in military confrontations with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a source from the camp told Majalla.
Notably, the SDF, which is backed by the United States and the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, is an alliance of forces formed during the Syrian civil war. It is composed primarily of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian/Syriac, as well as some smaller Armenian, Turkmen, and Chechen forces.
There are about 8,000 ISIS women from dozens of European, Asian and Arab countries, who live with their children in a special section in al-Hol camp. However, many infiltrate other sections and kill those who joined the group years ago and decided to abandon its radical ideology.
ISIS controlled vast areas of Syria and Iraq and took full control of the Syrian city of Raqqa in early 2014 and made it the de facto capital before the SDF declared it recaptured in late March 2019.
The SDF has about 12,000 ISIS militants in their prisons. However, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), which manages civil, service, and judicial matters in the SDF-run areas, only prosecutes Syrians who had joined ISIS.
The Administration releases ISIS elements who are proven not to be involved in terrorist crimes, provided that they do not return to their previous activities under the sponsorship of the dignitaries of their tribes.
Its areas include parts of Aleppo and Deir Ezzor governorates, Raqqa and Hasaka governorates, except Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad cities, which Turkey took control over following a large-scale military operation against the SDF in early October 2019.
REPATRIATION OF CITIZENS IS NECESSARY
Leaders of the Autonomous Administration constantly warn that the situation in al-Hol camp will not change as long as countries refuse to repatriate ISIS women demanding to return.
Five crimes were committed in November at al-Hol camp, Sheikhmus Ahmed, head of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria’s office for internally displaced persons and refugees, told Majalla.
The five victims are Iraqi nationals, he noted, adding that the camp has witnessed the highest rate of murders in 2021, amounting to 89 by late November.
“Al-Hol camp recorded in 2021 the highest rate of killings since the arrival of ISIS women years ago.”
Ahmed accused ISIS sleeper cells of committing these crimes, stating that “the parties behind these operations are certainly ISIS cells in the camp that are supported by organization’s intelligence and cells deployed in Iraq and in Turkish-occupied Syrian cities.”
These crimes have sparked fear among displaced Syrians and Iraqis in the camp, he added.
“Refugees fear ISIS cells have been able to organize their ranks throughout this year to commit more crimes and assassinations in and outside the camp, especially since the organization appears to have resumed its operations in Syria and Iraq.”
These fears are constantly increasing, especially since the terrorist organization considers al-Hol camp a microcosm of its alleged “caliphate,” Ahmed stressed.
He reiterated his appeal to the international community to address the problems in the camp and intervene swiftly and urgently to help the Autonomous Administration and the displaced people by pressuring countries to repatriate their female citizens residing in the camp.
“Many international organizations withdrew from al-Hol camp,” the civilian official said, adding that the area where it had been established is besieged by the Syrian government and Turkey and its border crossing with Iraq’s Kurdistan region is closed.
“All these reasons prevent humanitarian aid from entering our areas,” Ahmed stressed, noting that the international community must provide access to the basic needs and support the Autonomous Administration in the humanitarian, political, and security fields.
“It should address the ISIS women’s issue, especially with the coronavirus outbreak and the sleeper cell’s ongoing efforts to reorganize their ranks.”
DOZENS OF CHILDREN TAUGHT ISIS IDEOLOGY
The population density is high in al-Hol camp, where almost 60,000 Iraqis and Syrians who fled ISIS-controlled areas have been residing for years now. Women affiliated with the terrorist organization residing there come from 60 different countries.
The murders are not limited to ISIS women or those who belong to the organization. Female ISIS militants living in al-Hol camp stabbed members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services, known as Asayish, to death.
In addition to the residence of these women in the camp, officials in the Autonomous Administration warn of the repercussions of the continued residency of their children as well, fearing their mothers would teach them the organization’s radical ideology.
Many countries refuse to reclaim dozens of children living in these camps. Other countries, including Sudan, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, France, and other Arab, European and Asian countries, have repatriated hundreds of children.
Children of ISIS fighters live in dire conditions in al-Hol camp as a result of malnutrition and the lack of means of safety from storms, fires, and the pandemic. Their actions and thoughts are driven by the extremist ideology, which makes them sleeper cells and time bombs ready to explode any moment.
A volunteer who works inside the camp with a local organization underlined the great danger these children face, as well as their need for psychological support, food, and in-kind assistance. She warned against following in their parents’ footsteps, noting that this constitutes the greatest danger inside and outside al-Hol camp.
An estimated 11,136 foreign women and children from some 60 other countries remain in camps in northeast Syria, the United Nations has earlier announced. But Autonomous Administration officials say that “the numbers are, in fact, much higher.”
The Autonomous Administration considers al-Hol camp a “ticking bomb” due to crimes committed there and its concern that ISIS would reorganize its elements inside the camp near the border with Iraq.
It is noteworthy that Turkey launched its Operation Peace Spring in October 2019, which helped ISIS women flee from the camps to other Syrian areas controlled by Ankara, the Administration announced then.
The operation allowed Syrian regime forces to regain control over the areas run by the Autonomous administration in which these camps were established, forcing dozens of international organizations to halt their work there.
In this context, a source in an international organization that previously worked in al-Hol told the Majalla that “This camp is no longer safe for our employees, so we decided to suspend our activities there and limit our work to sending some aid through the central government in Damascus.”
Dozens of organizations were working inside al-Hol camp, especially with ISIS children, but they all suspended their work after ISIS women’s repeated attempts to attack UN officials by stabbing them with knives or threatening to kill them.
Last week, international organizations, led by the UN and the European Commission, renewed their warnings of the danger of keeping ISIS women in the camps for a longer period, while US reports have recently warned of the possibility of them turning into bloodier version of the extremist organization.
The source of this danger are ISIS women themselves and those seeking to enforce rules and punishments on other residents in the camp. These groups are known as the “Hisba,” It is the religious police formed by ISIS after controlling various areas in Syria and Iraq.
The Hisba remains the main accused of committing the murders inside the camp, according to US, European and Syrian reports.
In November, a British newspaper described al-Hol camp as “one of the world’s bloodiest areas”, where murders are committed in public.
Fires break out in al-Hol camp every now and then for unknown reasons. A fire broke out in the camp on Monday and burned down several tents, resulting in dozens of casualties.
Also last week, a tanker truck distributing water at the sprawling camp rammed into a tent, killing three women and severely injuring a man, whose leg was amputated, eyewitnesses said.
“ISIS women seem to ignite these fires to cause more chaos inside the camp,” a local source told the Majalla.
A fire also broke out in August at al-Hol camp, burning dozens of tents.