ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A local counter-terrorism unit in the northern Syrian city of Manbij on Saturday arrested members of an Islamic State cell allegedly involved in smuggling at least six women connected to the extremist group from a camp under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to Turkish-held areas along the country’s northern border.
The SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council's media office claimed in a statement that a man named Abu Naji, a leader of the Turkish-backed Ahrar Al-Sham paramilitary group, was responsible for smuggling “ISIS elements and their families to areas controlled by the Turkish occupation.”
It continued, “After investigating this cell, it was found that ISIS members who are currently fighting in the ranks of the Turkish occupation mercenaries are trying to smuggle their families out of the Al-Hol camp.”
The sprawling facility was built to house 40,000 individuals but currently houses some 68,000 women and children from multiple nations, many of whom are related to Islamic State fighters.
“The Turkish intelligence commissioned ‘Abu Naji’ to carry out this task, the person is known to have carried out several bombings in the city of Manbij and Hasakah, and caused the death of dozens of civilians,” the statement claimed.
After observation and other intelligence-gathering about the cell's activities, the council continued, “anti-terror units in Manbij city were able to arrest a number of members of this cell, who smuggled six women of Arab and foreign nationalities” from Al-Hol Camp to areas along the Turkish border controlled by Ankara since its cross-border military incursion began in early October.
Another of those arrested was reported to be an Islamic State member who sustained an injury to his left eye during the fight between the group’s militants and the SDF in the city of Deir al-Zor.
It would hardly be surprising that an Islamic State cell intent on smuggling those sympathetic to its cause northward toward Turkey would be operating in Manbij, an area that links territory held by the SDF to those under Turkish control.
Before Turkey began its attack against the SDF on Oct. 9, two Dutch Islamic State-affiliated women escaped from al-Hol Camp, almost certainly with the aid of smugglers, and later managed to reach the Dutch embassy in Ankara.
More recently on Nov. 14, internal security forces in the al-Nashwa neighborhood of the city of Hasakah arrested additional women that had fled from al-Hol Camp. Just five days later, six more who had escaped from the camp under unclear circumstances were arrested, according to the Syria-based Rojava Information Centre (RIC).
The SDF is not alone in accusing Turkish-backed groups of trying to smuggle those with connection to the Islamic State into Turkish-controlled territory in Syria. The US Defense Department inspector general’s quarterly report, released on Tuesday, cited the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s claims that “some militias backed by Turkey previously helped to smuggle ISIS fighters across borders and probably maintain low-level tactical ties to ISIS.”
Editing by John J. Catherine