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IS says it 'freed' women held by Syrian Kurds

Kurdish forces say hundreds of IS relatives have tried to escape since Turkey's offensive. [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 October, 2019

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The prospect that thousands of the world's most fanatic militants could break out in the chaos caused by Turkey's invasion of northeastern Syria is causing widespread alarm.

The Islamic State group said it has "freed" women held by Syrian Kurdish forces, the latest in a series of reported prison breakouts since Turkey launched a military operation in the north of the country last week.

In a statement released on the Telegram messaging application, IS said it had stormed a security headquarters west of its former stronghold of Raqqa on Wednesday, "freeing Muslim women kidnapped" by Kurdish forces.

It did not give a number or say if the women were IS members or wives of militants.

Separately three former IS fighters, originally from the Gaza Strip, escaped a Kurdish detention centre near Tal Abyad close to the Syrian-Turkish border, a source in a political faction in Gaza said.

The three - two of whom were members of the military wing of Hamas before joining IS - called their families Wednesday following their escape but said they did not intend to return home, the source said.

Read more: Turkey, the Kurds and the demographic re-engineering of Syria

The prospect that thousands of the world's most fanatic militants could break out in the chaos caused by Turkey's invasion of northeastern Syria is causing widespread alarm.

European governments fear it could lead to a resurgence of the group that has wreaked havoc through attacks in the West and formerly controlled parts of Syria and Iraq.

According to Kurdish authorities, hundreds of IS relatives have already tried to escape since Ankara launched its offensive on 9 October.

On Sunday, Kurdish authorities said nearly 800 relatives of foreign militants had escaped from a Kurdish-run displacement camp in the northern Syrian town of Ain Issa. 

At least three French women who had left the camp have since joined up with IS, according to messages they sent to their lawyer, seen by AFP.

Five IS militants escaped from a prison near the northeastern city of Qamishli last week, according to Kurdish forces.

A breakout attempt was foiled in the infamous al-Hol camp on Tuesday, which is so overcrowded that wardens are struggling to control riots.

According to the Kurdish administration, there are around 12,000 suspected IS fighters in the custody of Kurdish security forces across prisons in northeastern Syria.

At least 2,500 of them are non-Iraqi foreigners of more than 50 different nationalities. Tunisia is thought to have the biggest contingent.

Read more: The deadly toll of US indifference in Syria

The detained fighters have thousands of relatives - mostly women and children - held in displacement camps.

Al-Hol alone holds 68,000 prisoners, mostly relatives of current or former IS members, according to the United Nations.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Wednesday they were suspending operations against IS.

"We have frozen all our actions against Daesh," SDF head Mazloum Abdi told Kurdish television channel Ronahi, using an Arabic acronym for the militants.

The SDF, which helped defeat IS with the support of the US-led coalition, said it would only carry out defensive operations.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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