A group of Islamic State terrorists have attacked a Syrian prison housing many of their members on Thursday, January 20. After freeing several of them, they took possession of the facility leaving some 850 children hostage. Clashes with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) seeking to regain control of the facility have not ended and has left at least 200 dead so far.

The conflict began on Thursday last week when a car bomb struck near the gates of the Ghuwayran prison in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, The Guardian reported.

At least 23 members of the Kurdish-led SDF were killed after the car bomb hit, and it allowed many ISIS members serving time there to escape. 

Islamic State fighters barricaded themselves in the houses around the prison facility, sometimes using residents as human shields.

In parallel the overcrowded prison was taken over to this day by prisoners, largely ISIS members, who have been engaged in heavy armed fighting against the SDF and U.S. troops.

The prison also has about 850 underage children, some as young as 12 years old, being held there. UNICEF issued an alert on January 25 reporting that minors may be being used by terrorists at the facility and forced to play an active role in clashes between detainees and security forces.

Most of these children are Syrian and Iraqi, while the rest are of 20 other nationalities, the report said. None of them have been charged with any crime under national or international law which has been repeatedly denounced by human rights bodies. 

“UNICEF has long been concerned about the children detained in this facility due to the overall poor physical conditions, limited services, over-crowding and lack of appropriate health and sanitary care. Children have little to no contact with their families, have no access to education, and face an uncertain fate,” the report described.

Juliette Touma, UNICEF’s regional head of communication and advocacy in the Middle East and North Africa, spoke to Reuters and expressed grave concern about the situation of the children in the Syrian prison, saying that their lives are in danger with every passing minute.

The children were temporarily detained during the U.S.-backed campaigns that eventually drove the Islamic State from its last territorial enclave in Syria in 2019.

Human rights organizations have raised concerns that Kurdish forces, who were left responsible for these children, have to this day held them in overcrowded makeshift prisons in inhumane conditions as would be the case at the prison in Hasakah.

ISIS, has carried out regular attacks against particular Kurdish and government targets in Syria since they were forced to leave the region in 2019. 

Most of their guerrilla attacks have been against small military targets and oil facilities in remote areas, but the Hasakah prison break could mark a new phase in the terrorist group’s resurgence.

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