There are two places of election for radicalizations: prisons and refugee camps. Places where external time stops and internal time crystallizes. Fundamentalism has an easy life there because, while everything flows around, the radical, violent, obscurantist message spreads.
The events of the last few days in Northeast Syria are yet another confirmation of this.
For three days the city of Hasaka has been crossed by intense fighting after the attack by the militiamen of the Islamic State on the Gweiran prison run by the Kurdish forces, inside which there are 3,500 inmates suspected of having links with the group.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there are hundreds of jihadists on the run and 120 victims, “at least 70 among ISIS militants and about 40 members of the Kurdish forces”, including prison guards and anti-terrorism squads who are still fighting in the neighborhoods adjacent to the prison site.
Attacks on prisons are considered by analysts and anti-terrorism scholars to be a short- and long-term security risk and a now classic strategy of jihadist groups.
In cells and fields
With the end of the war, and the consequent, overwhelming, military victory of the Islamic State at least in Syria and Iraq, thousands of fighters ended up in dilapidated prisons and their families, wives and children, confined to overcrowded and unlivable refugee camps. , like that of Al Hol (administered by the SDF) where about 60,000 people live. 90% are women and children.
Among them 9 thousand foreign citizens, relatives of foreign fighters who left to join the Caliphate project and who were not allowed to return to their countries of origin.
After the fall of the last bastion of the self-proclaimed Caliphate, Baghuz, the pressure on the international community to solve the problem of the tens of thousands of people detained in North East Syria was as serious as it was unheard. Above all because, despite the military defeat, ISIS has never skimped in encouraging the assaults on prisons.
Already in 2019, the United Nations Security Council noted that members of the Islamic State were “planning the evasion of fighters from detention facilities and noted the precariousness of local authorities and non-state armed groups in managing displaced persons and detainees”. An elegant way to say that once the war against the demon of Isis ended, the pockets of resistance in Baghuz were eliminated with the latest bombings, the West had washed the hands of local fighters and also of foreign fighters, delegating the management of prisons. to a non-state actor – the Kurdish authority – also delegating the confinement in refugee camps of wives and children and thus building the most fertile ground for the recruitments of the future.
A disaster foretold.
The propaganda effects
Rewinding the tape to 2012-2013 it is easy to find traces of an unlearned lesson on the effects and propaganda value of prison assaults in jihadist ideology.
In 2012, Al Qaeda in Iraq launched the “Breaking the Walls” campaign, freeing hundreds of fighters in Iraqi prisons and causing eight breakouts that favored the escape of those who would become top ISIS leaders. Campaign ended on July 21, 2013 when the group broke into Abu Ghraib prison, leading to the escape of 500 or more prisoners, most of whom had been detained during the Iraq war for terrorist activities.
After the assaults, Al Qaeda in Iraq launched phase two of the campaign “The Soldiers’ Harvest”, (the harvest of the soldiers): it regrouped the ranks by joining the new supporters to the operational members who were detained, laying the foundations for its rebirth and the transition to what would soon become Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The jihadist strategy
Observing the events years (and wars) away, it is immediate to note that the evasion strategies are an integral part of the organizational fabric of the group: attacking a prison means claiming one’s military strength, freeing the leaders of the movement specializing in combat techniques and determine a propaganda victory with external enemies and also with internal currents.
Finally, the riots in prisons underline the weakness of the state (in this case non-state) apparatus in which the movements operate. A step consistent with the jihadist strategies since Zarqawi: creating disorder, weakening or destroying the apparatuses of the territories in which one operates to show their fragility, consolidate one’s dominion while the state collapses around it, allow the power of the militiamen to expand and proclaim the Caliphate.
According to data collected by the private company Jihad Analytics, ISIS has carried out 22 attacks on prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Niger, Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan from 2013 to the present.
The fate of children
P.For years, since the fall of Mosul, Sirte and Raqqa – the three capitals of the Caliphate – and Baghuz then, the Western governments that had shouted at the mission accomplished, did not ask themselves, or rather they refused to face, the problem of who was left in Syria, and in Iraq. Militia detained, simple suspects of affiliation and families. Gigantic numbers, the human capital of the jihadist group, which in fact left, between 2014 and 2018, the witness of the project of the future Caliphate to women and young people, or rather to those who four years ago, when the war ended , they were children, and they became teenagers behind the bars of a cell, in a prison in Rojava, with the sole fault of being children or relatives of ISIS militiamen.
They too are among Hasaka’s fugitives. Seven hundred kids on whom for years the humanitarian organizations have been launching appeals that fall on deaf ears.
In March of last year, Human Rights Watch published a long and very detailed report on the risks of detentions in North Eastern Syria, the report described the living conditions of foreign detainees never brought before a court and therefore subject to arbitrary as well as indefinite detentions, subjected to increasing levels of violence and the parallel decline in humanitarian aid: food and medicine. The words of Letta Tyler, director of the Crisis and Conflicts sector of Human Rights Watch, on the refusal of governments to repatriate foreign fighters, in addition, were very clear: “Governments should help to fairly prosecute prisoners suspected of serious crimes and free all the others, not helping to create another Guantanamo ».
Guantanamo, the symbol
Tyler evoked one of the keywords of the jihadist propaganda of the last twenty years: Guantanamo. The others are Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib. All prisons that have been the scene of abuses that have fueled generations of terrorists. And it is no coincidence that it was in the Camp Bucca prison that the self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had spent years in detention. Just as it is no coincidence that part of the Taliban government is made up of former Guantanamo inmates, prisoners who today have the symbolic aura of having survived the shame of Western torture.
The Al-Hol desert
Last June Fabrizio Carboni, director general of the International Red Cross for the Middle East, visited the north-east of Syria, both prisons and refugee camps. Returning from his trip he had raised an alarm on the conditions of Al-Hol, a desert of tents that expands as far as the eye can see, where children continue to die, and mothers are separated from their children when they reach adolescence: “Hundreds of children and young people are being held in prisons for adults, children from Syria, Iraq and dozens of other countries. It is time for states to act in a humane and responsible way ».
Many of the boys Carboni talks about were taken from refugee camps when they reached the age of twelve, forcibly separated from their mothers, one hundred of them live in a locked rehabilitation center.
“The needs are immense – said the director of ICRC – and the cost of inaction is high”.
The cost of inaction is to increase the spread of radicalism, when one was certain that evil had been eradicated, its bastions fallen.
Once again, the cry of alarm went unheard.
Isis is dead, long live Isis
In his latest message as leader of the Islamic State, in September 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told his followers to “do their best to save their brothers and sisters from the walls that imprison them.” Baghdadi came from there, from detention at Camp Bucca.
In the cell he had consolidated his charisma over the group and expanded his dominion.
Today, three days after the assault on Hasaka prison, it is clear that not only the prisoners have escaped but also the symbolic scope they bring with them, they have resisted within the walls of a prison, they were saved by the fighters, and they are ready. to fight again, against the infidels who believed they had defeated the Caliphate project.
Ready, with their bodies released, to show that Isis is dead, long live Isis.
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