Islamic State prisoners, Kurdish authorities reach agreement to end Syria jail riot

In this April 3, 2018 file photo, prisoners play volleyball, in a Kurdish-run prison housing former members of the Islamic State group, in Qamishli, north Syria. Hussein Malla / The Associated Press

Imprisoned members of the Islamic State group rioted and took control of a prison in northeast Syria for several hours, until Kurdish-led authorities negotiated an end to the unrest Sunday.

The riot began Saturday at a prison in the city of Hassakeh, one of the largest facilities where IS members are held, and control was reestablished Sunday evening, said Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

A two-day riot and takeover of the same prison in late March allowed four extremists to escape, although they were caught a day later. It was one of the most serious uprisings by the prisoners since IS was defeated a year ago, when the SDF seized control of the last sliver of land controlled by the extremists in eastern Syria.

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Kurdish authorities currently operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

Gabriel said SDF officials and members of the U.S.-led coalition had taken part in talks with the prisoners. At the height of the riots, he said Kurdish special forces and anti-terror units took part in the operations to try get the situation under control. He gave no further details, and did not say how many prisoners were involved or if there were any casualties.

U.S. military helicopters flew over the prison Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, and North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas.

Gabriel said the U.S.-led coalition and the international community bear responsibility for finding solutions for IS detainees, and need to give more support to security and living conditions at the prisons.

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A recent resurgence of IS attacks in both Syria and Iraq has raised concerns that the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos.

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It was not immediately clear if Sunday’s prison riot was triggered by concerns about the coronavirus’s potential spread in the facility.

Last month, the U.S.-led coalition said it gave hygiene and medical supplies to detention facilities across northeastern Syria, including hand-washing stations, disinfectant wipes, face masks and examination gloves.

One coronavirus death was reported in Kurdish-held areas of Syria in April. The central government in Damascus has registered 43 cases and three deaths.

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