Turkish invasion of Syria could set Shamima Begum and ISIS prisoners free, Kurdish warn – Express

Shamima Begum
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Shamima Begum and thousands of dangerous ISIS inmates could escape from prison camps in Syria if the threatened Turkish invasion goes ahead.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leaders have said increased airstrikes and artillery raids on mostly Kurdish areas of Syria mean security forces are being diverted away from ISIS detention centres.
A Turkish F16 jet killed eight guards, and injured 15, at the al-Hol camp last month that holds nearly 20,000 ISIS foreign wives and children.
SDF commanders have also revealed Turkish UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been spotted hovering over camps and detention centres. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is understood to be monitoring developments closely. 
Scene after Turkish airstrike
Al-Roj camp where Shamima Begum and other ISIS brides and their families are held is just ten miles from the Turkish-Syrian border.
During a recent press conference in Syria the SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi said that even if Turkish forces attacked certain points along the 560-mile-long border, all the border would become at warzone as the Kurds defended territory they see as their land. He told reporters: “If the Turks are serious in starting this operation, all the border will be under threat and there will be a war on all the border, for us it will be a matter of ‘to be, or not to be’.”
And speaking exclusively to the Express.co.uk Ahmad Mohammed, the UK representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), said if Turkey invades there is a chance Begum and ISIS inmates will escape and perhaps flee across the border into Turkey.
Shamima Begum is currently housed along with other Western ISIS women and children at the al-Roj camp close to the Turkish border in northeast Syria.
Mr Mohammed is meeting MPs in Parliament on Wednesday to discuss the threat of invasion and the security of ISIS prisoners.
He told Express.co.uk in the worst-case scenario ISIS fighters, and their wives and families who still follow the ideology, could escape from prisons and detention centres like al-Roj if the invasion goes ahead.
Mr Mohammed said: “The camps are endangered, and an escape of the ISIS family members would be imminent if an invasion happens. Not only the security forces will need to be on the frontlines with Turkey, but Turkey has already targeted them while they are on guarding duty, as happened in Jerkin prison and al-Hol camp.
“In fact, the Turkish military’s F16s have already targeted the security guards of the al-Hol camp which accommodates around 56,000 refugees, of whom, nearly 20,000 are ISIS foreign and local families.
“As a result of the airstrike, eight guards lost their lives, the camp experienced riots and two ISIS families escape attempts.
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Shamima Begum
Al-Roy Camp
“Given that al-Hol camp is about 75km away from the Turkish border, al-Roj camp is even closer with about 10km or less distance from the border.
“So not only Begum, but other ISIS members with British citizenship, and another 10,000 foreign members of ISIS are also to be concerned about escaping if Turkey invades.”
The SDF have reported increased Turkish attacks in the region that is currently administered outside of President Assad’s regime. The SDF have been working closely with coalition forces and other partners to stop an ISIS resurgence in the area and guards all of the prison camps.
However, in recent weeks they have had to scale back their anti-ISIS cooperation with international partners as they prepare for a ground invasion. Partols with US forces only restarted this week. 
Mr Mohammed said: “Thousands of ISIS fighters are held in prisons. The most popular being Sina’a prison in al-Hasakah province northeast Syria about 80km away of the Turkish border.
“In January 2022 this prison experienced a prison break attempt supported by members of ISIS infiltrated from Turkish occupied territories in north Syria from Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain) and Tal Abyad.
“The interrogations of these terrorists have shown that the attack on the prison was coordinated with the Turkish intelligence services MIT located in the occupied areas of Serekaniye and Tal Abyad.
“Nevertheless, in the recent attacks which started on 19-20 November, 2022, alongside the al-Hol camp, the Jerkin prison of ISIS detainees near al-Hasakah was bombed by Turkish warplanes. Which therefore imposed a direct threat of ISIS escaping.”
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SDF fighter burns ISIS flag
SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi said in a press conference in November an outbreak of war would not only threaten security around the prisons, it might also lead to more migrants heading to Europe.
He said: “More than a million people live in the areas the Turks are planning to target, all these people will be immigrants or will be IDPs (internally displaced persons) in other areas, heading towards safer areas and this will bring a humanitarian disaster with it.
“We do believe that more importantly that the security centres where we are holding ISIS fighters and ISIS families are another threat to the region.
“We have started to see in parallel with the Turkish activities against us and Turkish airstrikes against us, there are additional activities and additional movements of ISIS cells.
“Indescribable efforts have been done by the SDF alongside the international coalition and the international community to undermine ISIS, all these gains that we have gained alongside these international powers will be at risk and threatened.”
In recent days, in retaliation for a deadly November 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on the Kurdish groups. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion, without specifying when it would be launched. Kurdish groups have denied any links to the Istanbul bombing that killed six and wounded dozens.
Professor Howard Eissentstat, from St Lawrence University and the Middle East Institute in the United States, said: “A serious Turkish ground assault would be existential for the SDF; it would have no choice but to divert forces to meet that threat.  The risks that ISIS would take the opportunity to try to free the thousands of ISIS soldiers held by the SDF is obvious.
“I think that Turkey is very serious about a ground offensive. Such a move would fit with Turkey’s longstanding concerns regarding a Kurdish proto-state on its borders and be politically valuable to President Erdogan as he faces elections in the midst of a dismal economy.  It also reflects Turkey’s assessment that the regional situation and the balance of power between itself and Russia and the US, respectively, has shifted so that it has more freedom of maneuver.
“For the US and Turkey’s NATO allies, of course, this is unwelcome.  Fighting ISIS was never Turkey’s priority.  For Turkey, of course, ISIS remains a security risk; but it sees the risk of a continued YPG government on its border as a far greater strategic concern and it will act accordingly.”
British journalist Andrew Drury has visited al-Roj camp six times since 2021. He said through his connections in the region he knew there was a very real chance Shamima Begum and other ISIS prisoners could escape if a ground war erupts.
He said: “If the SDF leave these camps to fight an invading Turkish ground offensive, who is going to look after the camps?
“I’ve seen how close al-Roj camp is to the Turkish border, if the Turks decided to come across they’d be at the camp in under an hour. Shamima Begum and all the ISIS prisoners there could have a chance to escape.”
Speaking to reporters in Qatar last month Turkish President Erdogan said his country’s ongoing military campaign in mostly Kurdish areas of northern Syria and northern Iraq “is not limited to just an air operation” and could involve ground force. 
He said: “Competent authorities, our defence ministry and chief of staff will together decide the level of force that should be used by our ground forces.
“We make our consultations and then we take our steps accordingly.”

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