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Syria Kurds End Sweep of IS Supporters in Al-Hol Camp


FILE - A general view of al-Hol displacement camp in Hasakah governorate, Syria, April 2, 2019.

Kurdish forces in northeast Syria on Saturday announced the end of a three-week operation against Islamic State group supporters inside the overcrowded and increasingly lawless camp of Al-Hol.

They arrested more than 200 people, including dozens of women, discovered tunnels used by jihadis and seized an arsenal of weapons.

The internal security forces of the area's semi-autonomous Kurdish administration carried out the massive sweep of the camp, which houses tens of thousands of relatives of suspected IS members.

The number of killings inside the camp had risen recently, as had fears that Al-Hol was becoming the hub from which the jihadi organization was planning its resurgence.

"The operation was launched following the increasing crimes of killing and torture committed by ISIS," a Kurdish statement said, using another acronym for IS.

The U.N. says more than 100 people have been killed since the start of 2021 in Al-Hol, which lies in a remote area near the border with Iraq and is home to Syrian and Iraqi families, as well as around 10,000 others, mostly women and children, from elsewhere.

FILE: An image obtained from the media office of the Kurdish People's Protection Units in Syria (YPG) March 29, 2021 shows YPG forces conducting a security operation the previous day at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp.
FILE: An image obtained from the media office of the Kurdish People's Protection Units in Syria (YPG) March 29, 2021 shows YPG forces conducting a security operation the previous day at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp.

The Kurdish security forces said IS had relied heavily on women and children in Al-Hol, most of whom had been there for more than three years, to spread the group's extremist ideology.

The rump of the organization's once-sprawling "caliphate" was retaken in March 2019, causing an exodus among its last denizens.

The families of suspected IS fighters were herded into Al-Hol, a de facto detention camp that Kurdish forces are tasked with guarding and running.

Many countries, such as France, which was among the biggest purveyors of foreign fighters to IS, have been reluctant to repatriate their citizens.

Kurdish forces said they made a total of 226 arrests, uncovered 25 "tunnels and trenches," confiscated assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade and 25 hand grenades.

The internal security forces also said they freed two women from Iraq's Yazidi minority who were being held by female IS sympathizers inside the camp, as well as four other women who were found chained.

Among the other discoveries were many communication devices used to coordinate with IS cells outside Al-Hol, organize money transfers and plan attacks, the statement said.

The Kurdish authorities reiterated their call on foreign countries to repatriate their nationals, arguing the world had "underestimated the seriousness of the threats in the camp."

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