ISIS Stormed a Prison. There Are Hundreds of Boys Inside

Siege on Gweiran Prison shines a light on the children's plight
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 26, 2022 11:00 AM CST
Siege on Syrian Prison Exposes Plight of Forgotten Boys
This photo shows Islamic State group fighters, who surrendered after clashing with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, at Gweiran Prison, in Hassakeh, Syria, on Monday.   (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, via AP)

A distressing series of voice notes sent by an Australian teen from a prison in northeast Syria underscores the plight of thousands of forgotten children who remain trapped in detention facilities in Syria and Iraq. Hundreds of minors (Human Rights Watch estimates 600 boys) are believed to be holed up in Gweiran Prison, which has been at the center of an ongoing violent standoff between Islamic State group militants and US-backed Kurdish fighters that began a week ago. ISIS fighters stormed the prison on Thursday, aiming to break out comrades who simultaneously rioted inside (Sky News reports the prison held about 3,500 ISIS members). The attack is the biggest by ISIS militants since the fall of the group's "caliphate" in 2019.

Dozens from both sides have been killed in the clash, which has drawn back in US-led coalition forces who've come to the aid of their Kurdish allies; the BBC reports the Kurdish-led forces on Wednesday announced they were once again in control of the prison. "But the fate of hundreds of boys that ISIS had taken hostage and used as human shields is still in question," notes the New York Times. The fighting appears to have left multiple child inmates killed or wounded, though numbers aren't known. Human Rights Watch provided the AP with a series of audio messages sent by the 17-year-old Australian from inside the prison in which he appealed for help, saying he was injured in the head and was bleeding. The boy says his friends got killed and that he has seen bodies of kids aged 8 to 12.

Some of the kids were children when their parents plucked them from their own countries after they decided to join the so-called Islamic caliphate declared in 2014 over parts of Syria and Iraq. Others were born there. Many attended ISIS-run schools where they were trained for combat as part of a concerted effort to build a new generation of militants. They called them "cubs of the caliphate." Most were later captured by Kurdish-led forces during the US-backed campaign that brought down ISIS three years ago, thrown into squalid, overcrowded detention centers, and continue to languish there, mostly because their governments have refused to repatriate them.

(More Syria stories.)

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