ISIS exploits security vacuum amid Turkish incursion, attacks Syrian Kurds
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for two attacks in northeast Syria against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Wednesday, taking apparent advantage of a security vacuum caused by a Turkish cross-border attack on the SDF that began earlier in the day.
Female Islamic State supporters in the al-Hol camp, which holds nearly 69,000 women and children who are family members of suspected members of the extremist group, also burned their tents and tried to create chaos, a Kurdish security official said, confirming an earlier report by Middle East Eye news agency.
Amaq, the semi-official ISIS outlet claimed later wrote, “Trusting the highest God, the Caliphate’s soldier, brother Abu Adnan Al-Shami – may Allah accept him – yesterday managed to reach to the intelligence base of the PKK infidels within Shari’ Al-Noor neighborhood in Raqqa city center.”
Ankara considers the YPG, which serves as the military wing of the SDF, to be an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey for expanded Kurdish rights.
In the statement, the Islamic State claimed that it had killed 13 fighters in the attack, but the Military Council of Raqqa said none were hurt, writing, “Our forces confronted [a] group of ISIS members who tried to attack one of our centers. Terrorists used explosive belts, bombs and machine guns. 2 suicide bombers who blew themselves up before reaching our forces.”
A civilian in Raqqa also confirmed there was the sound of gunfire early on Wednesday morning, but had no information on casualties.
The Islamic State also proclaimed in a second statement that “caliphate soldiers” ambushed four vehicles of fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Tabqa, adding that the attacks were “revenge for the crimes against Muslim women in the camps.”
On Sept. 30, local security forces intervened at Syria’s al-Hol camp on Monday after women accused of Islamic State membership were attempting to impose strict rules on other women, much like those females faced under the so-called caliphate. At least 50 were arrested, and one was killed.
The SDF holds thousands of foreign militants in several camps who it is feared may use the Turkish incursion as an opportunity to launch new Islamic State attacks and regroup.
Human Rights Watch recently reported that local officials estimate that the SDF currently has custody of 12,000 prisoners suspected of membership in the Islamic State, including 4,000 foreigners, in seven detention centers in northeast Syria.
An SDF official suggested that Turkey targeted a prison in Qamishli (Qamishlo) on Wednesday where Islamic State suspects are held.
“The bombing of the prison is an attempt by Turkey to cause chaos in order to help the inmates escape the prison,” he said.
According to Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a scholar who studies militant groups, there is a risk that the Islamic State will exploit the “mobilization of SDF forces up north trying to fend off a Turkish assault. So they exploit that security gap.”
“In this case,” he continued, “this particular Raqqa attack they did partly in response to criticism that [was] made from all various operations they [have] done recently; none of them were actually done for the plight of Muslim female prisoners in the camps of SDF.”
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in September called on its supporters to free those who were detained by operations by the SDF this past March when they took the last of the land held by the group.
“For your brothers and sisters, make (an) effort in saving them and destroying the gates that imprison them,” said Baghdadi.
Um Muhammad, a foreign Islamic State sympathizer, told Kurdistan 24 that she was happy that Turkey is attacking Kurds in northern Syria.
“The Turks are better than the Kurds in many ways but I do not quite know what the outcome will be and what the consequences will be, so I am careful to say or mean anything for the time being.”
She added that she expected better treatment from Turkey than from the Kurds.
The SDF this week said they stopped operations against the Islamic State and withdrew forces from multiple areas to the border to focus on defending against the Turkish attacks.
Ibrahim Kalin, a special advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed on Twitter that, “Turkey will also continue to fight against DAESH (Islamic State) and will not allow it to return in any shape and form.”
Multiple observers and experts, including former US security officials, say that the Turkish attack has a high likelihood of jeopardizing the gains made against the terrorist organization.
Editing by John J. Catherine