ISIL fighters and their families helped to escape from Raqqa in secret deal
About 4,000 people – ISIL fighters and their families – were reportedly allowed to escape the besieged city of Raqqa in Syria.
A secret deal arranged by local officials enabled hundreds of ISIL fighters to leave the city, the BBC reported. The deal was made to spare lives of fighters opposing the extremist group as the battle to liberate the city entered its final phase.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, hired bus drivers to pick up ISIL fighters and take them out of the city.
One of the drivers said that a convoy of 50 lorries, 13 buses and more than 100 of ISIL’s vehicles, filled with weapons and ammunition, left Raqqa.
“We took out around 4,000 people including women and children – our vehicle and their vehicles combined,” another driver said. “When we entered Raqqa we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.”
Fighters of different nationalities joined the convoy despite an agreement with the forces that no foreign fighters would be able to leave the city alive.
The US-led coalition was aware of the deal, under which 250 fighters escaped with 3,500 of their family members, although it said it did not play an active part in the negotiations.
“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” said Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve. “But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders.
“It comes down to Syrians. They get to make the decisions regarding operations.”
The drivers were believed to have set off on October 12, five days before Raqqa’s liberation.
The report will cause security concerns across the world from authorities who fear of an influx of ISIL fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq.