Security increased at IS prisons after leader’s death
Syrian Kurdish forces said Monday they are increasing security at prisons and detention facilities holding tens of thousands of Islamic State (IS)militants and supporters, including foreigners, following the death of the extremist group’s leader in a US military raid.
The heightened security also comes as Kurdish forces said they are continuing operations to hunt down IS leaders in Syria. Hours after the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwestern Syria, another attack based on Kurdish intelligence killed one of his aides and possible successors, Kurdish forces said.
If confirmed, the death of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir would be another blow to IS.
Forces from the Kurdish-led internal security agency were “on high alert” after al-Baghdadi’s death in anticipation of possible riots or attacks on the prisons and camps for displaced people in northeastern Syria where IS members or supporters are located, an official with the agency said.
One of the camps is home to 70,000 people, most of them relatives of the extremists. More than 10,000 prisoners, including 2,000 foreigners, are held in detention facilities in northeastern Syria.
Fear of chaos already was running high over the fate of those detained after this month’s Turkish military invasion of northeastern Syria, which ushered in major troop changes in the area. Turkey moved troops into areas along the border, while Syrian border guards were deployed in others.
Kurdish officials had said they needed to divert fighters and logistics to the front line to ward off the Turkish offensive. A shaky cease-fire is in place and an agreement to redeploy Kurdish forces away from the borders.
Security forces have been able to secure the prisons, according to another official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters.
News of al-Baghdadi’s death had not yet been formally announced to those in the camps on Monday, but many of them have telephones and news has most likely reached them.
President Donald Trump announced al-Baghdadi’s death in a nationally televised address from the White House on Sunday, saying he exploded his suicide vest while being pursued by US troops.
His death left IS without an obvious leader — a major setback for a terror organisation that in March was forced by US and Kurdish forces out of the last portion of its self-declared ‘caliphate’, which once spanned parts of Iraq and Syria.
Later Sunday, Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Kurdish-led forces, said his group’s intelligence cooperated with the US military to target al-Muhajir in a village near Jarablus in northwestern Syria. It was part of ongoing operations to hunt down IS leaders, Abdi said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported al-Muhajir’s death, saying he was travelling in a convoy made up of an oil tanker and a sedan. The bodies of those killed were badly burned and it wasn’t immediately clear how al-Muhajir’s identity was confirmed.
The US raid that killed al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of IS who presided over its global jihad and became one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, took place just before midnight Saturday in Syria’s Idlib province.