HASAKEH, Syria — The Islamic State group on Friday attacked a Syria prison housing fellow jihadists and a military base in Iraq in near-simultaneous deadly operations that revived fears of an IS resurgence.
The jihadist group has yet to comment on the attacks and there is no indication that they are coordinated but, according to analysts, they strongly suggest IS is trying to boost its ranks and arsenal in an attempt to reorganize across both countries.
In Syria, an ongoing IS attack on a northeast Syria detention facility holding the largest number of IS suspects killed at least 20 Kurdish security forces and set several IS fighters free, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The prison break that began late Thursday was one of the group’s most significant attacks since its “caliphate” was declared defeated in the war-torn country nearly three years ago.
As IS operatives launched their bid to free some of the estimated 3,500 fellow fighters jailed at Ghwayran prison in the Syrian city of Hasakeh, the jihadists killed 11 soldiers in an attack on an army base in the east of neighboring Iraq.
The attack marked the jihadists’ deadliest operation in Iraq this year.
While the Iraq operation quickly came under wraps, Kurdish forces in Syria continued to battle jihadists in Hasakeh, hours after the prison attack began with an IS car bomb late Thursday, the Observatory said.
“The number of those killed among Kurdish internal security forces and prison guards stands at 20,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The war monitor, providing figures that were not immediately confirmed by the authorities of the autonomous Kurdish region, also said at least 16 jihadists were killed in the ongoing fighting.
The brazen IS operation sowed chaos in Hasakeh, forcing people to flee the area around Ghwayran prison.
IS fighters hunkered down in homes around the facility, sometimes using residents as human shields, as Kurdish forces fought to retake full control of the neighborhood and hunt down prisoners on the loose.
IS has carried out regular attacks against Kurdish and regime targets in Syria since the last rump of its once-sprawling proto-state was defeated on the banks of the Euphrates in March 2019.
The Kurdish authorities have long warned they did not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, the thousands of IS fighters captured in years of operations.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 IS suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the IS prisoners’ countries of origin have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
A United Nations report last year estimated that around 10,000 IS fighters remained active across Iraq and Syria, many of them in Kurdish-controlled areas.