IS Militants Riot in E. Syria Prison

BEIRUT (AP) -- Islamic State militants rioted inside in a prison in northeastern Syria, wrestling control from guards on an entire floor in the facility while a number of prisoners managed to escape, a Syrian Kurdish official said Sunday.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said anti-terrorism forces were working to regain control of the prison in the eastern Hassakeh province, adding that more forces were on their way.

The prison is believed to house foreign IS militants. It is not clear what nationalities were held there.

The U.S-led coalition said it was assisting the SDF with aerial surveillance as they quell the riot. The coalition said in a tweet that the facility holds low level IS members. The coalition said its forces don't staff any detention facilities in Syria.

Bali said the number of those who escaped remains unclear. He said so far there is no connection between the riot and fears of the fast-spreading, new coronavirus. There are concerns over an outbreak of the virus inside overcrowded prison facilities in Syria and elsewhere in the region. But so far there are no reports of infection in Kurdish-administered northeastern Syria or in any detention facilities.

"Riots often break out in prisons. But this time the scale of the riot is large," Bali said in a text message to the Associated Press.

He said rioters were in full control of the ground floor of the prison and have smashed and removed the prison's internal doors. The anti-terror squat is working to restore calm, he said.

North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas, said at least four IS militants escaped, quoting a security official inside the prison know as Geweran.

One unnamed and masked member of the anti-terrorism force told reporters in Hassakeh late Sunday that the prisoners smashed walls between their cells while some managed to smash a wall leading to the outside, enabling them to escape. He said the numbers are still unclear.

Kurdish authorities run more than two dozen detention facilities, scattered around northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners, including about 800 Europeans. The Kurdish-led forces, backed by the U.S-led coalition, declared a military victory against IS last year after seizing control of the last sliver of land the militants controlled in southeast Syria.

Since, the Kurdish authorities have asked countries to repatriate their nationals, saying keeping thousands of detainees in crammed facilities is putting a strain on their forces.

Families of IS militants and supporters who came out of the last territory controlled by the group are also holed in camps around the Kurdish-controlled areas— the largest one housing nearly 70,000 women and children, many of them foreigners.

(KR)