Se­cu­rity in­creased at IS pris­ons after leader’s death

The Saline Courier - - NEWS -

BEIRUT — Syr­ian Kur­dish forces said Mon­day they are in­creas­ing se­cu­rity at pris­ons and de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties hold­ing tens of thou­sands of Is­lamic State mil­i­tants and sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing for­eign­ers, fol­low­ing the death of the ex­trem­ist group’s leader in a U.S. 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. U.S. of­fi­cials had no im­me­di­ate com­ment.

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 au­tho­rized 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 U.S. troops.

His death left IS with­out an ob­vi­ous leader — a ma­jor set­back for a ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tion that in March was forced by U.S. 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 U.S. 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 trav­el­ing 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 U.S. raid that killed al­bagh­dadi, 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.

It was a mile­stone in the fight against IS, which bru­tal­ized thou­sands of peo­ple in Syria and Iraq and sought to di­rect a global cam­paign from a self­de­clared “caliphate.” A mil­i­tary cam­paign by U.S. and al­lied forces led to the re­cap­ture of the ter­ri­tory the group held, but its vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy has con­tin­ued to in­spire at­tacks.

Syr­ian Kur­dish forces spokesman Mustafa Bali said his fight­ers be­lieve al-muha­jir was in Jarablus to fa­cil­i­tate al-bagh­dadi’s travel to the area, which is ad­min­is­tered by Turkey-backed fight­ers.

“More (IS fig­ures) re­main hid­ing in the area,” Bali said Sun­day.

Lit­tle is known about almuha­jir, who as­sumed the role of a spokesman after his pre­de­ces­sor was killed in a

2016 airstrike. Al-muha­jir is a nom-de-guerre that in­di­cates he is a for­eigner, and he also was be­lieved to be a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to al-bagh­dadi.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull back U.S. troops from north­east­ern Syria raised a storm of bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism in Wash­ing­ton, in­clud­ing state­ments that the move could help IS re­gain strength after its ter­ri­to­rial losses.

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