The Institute for the Study of War has released a new study about the bid of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to get its fighters out of jails in both Iraq and Syria.
Titled ‘ISIS’s campaign to escape detention in Iraq and Syria’, the study gains credence especially after the September 16 audio of ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he encouraged his followers to free ISIS fighters and their families from jails in Iraq and Syria.
It says ISIS has mounted low-level efforts to replenish its ranks from members held in detention facilities and displacement camps across Syria and Iraq since at least September 2018.
ISIS is reportedly bribing guards to release small numbers of its fighters in Iraq and Syria, the study says.
It quotes anonymous Iraqi officials as confirming in December 2018 that wealthy members of the group could buy their way out of detention facilities.
ISIS has also dedicated funds to release imprisoned fighters held in Iraqi Kurdistan and Southern Iraq, according to alleged internal documents released by a local analyst in late 2018.
In Syria, local civilians leveled similar accusations of bribery against guards employed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in June 2019, the study says.
It added that SDF General Commander Mazloum Kobane acknowledged in April 2019 that the SDF had cut the salaries of its fighters due in part to the burden of maintaining detention facilities and displacement camps in Syria.
This strain creates a situation vulnerable to bribes and smuggling networks operated by ISIS, it says.
The study says that ISIS also began a fundraising campaign in June 2019 to raise money for the stated purpose of smuggling women out of displacement camps (such as the Al-Hawl IDP Camp) in Northern Syria.
It adds that activists have reported at least two instances of smugglers successfully extracting foreign (i.e. non-Syrian or Iraqi) ISIS female members from a secure annex of the Al-Hawl IDP Camp.
The SDF arrested four smugglers and two foreign ISIS female members who had successfully escaped to a village near Al-Hawl IDP Camp on September 26, 2019, the study says.
Separately, smugglers disguised as camp guards allegedly smuggled “dozens” of ISIS female members from Al-Hawl IDP Camp as of October 1, it adds.
It notes that detained ISIS fighters have also organized riots or small-scale escape attempts from four detention facilities in Syria and Iraq since September 2018.