Islamic State prisoners riot again in northeast Syria

Militants from the Islamic State group rioted in a northeast Syrian prison Sunday, a month after similar violence at the facility allowed four extremists to escape, an opposition war monitor and a Kurdish activist collective said.

Kurdish forces sent reinforcements to the prison in the eastern Hassakeh province and U.S. military helicopters flew overhead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, and North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas.

Kurdish authorities currently operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

Further details were not immediately available on the size of the riot, and it was not clear if the unrest was triggered by concerns about the coronavirus’s potential spread in the prison.

In late March, two days of riots broke out at the same facility when former IS members began knocking down doors and making holes in the walls between cells. Four prisoners escaped but were caught a day later.

The riots were put down by the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Afterward, the SDF’s top commander Mazloum Abdi urged the home countries of foreign fighters to find a solution for the prisoners. The riot was one of the most serious uprisings by the prisoners since IS was defeated a year ago, when the SDF seized control of the last sliver of land controlled by the extremists in eastern Syria.

A resurgence of IS attacks in both Syria and Iraq has raised concerns that the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos.

Last month, the U.S.-led coalition said it had handed over hygiene and medical supplies to detention facilities across northeastern Syria, such as hand-washing stations, disinfectant wipes, face masks and examination gloves.

One coronavirus death was reported in Kurdish-held areas of Syria in April. The central government in Damascus has registered 43 cases and three deaths.

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