Saturday 19 October 2019

Isil families freed amid warnings on security

Lisa Smith before she turned to Islam when she says she was feeling suicidal
Lisa Smith before she turned to Islam when she says she was feeling suicidal

Sara Elizabeth Williams

Hundreds of women and children, including relatives of jihadists, are to be released today from the Syrian camp where Isil bride Lisa Smith was held until recently.

Despite warnings over security, up to 800 will be handed to their families following talks between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the mainly Kurdish US proxy group that runs the camp, and leaders of the tribes to which the camp inmates belong.

Ms Smith gives an interview to ITV in Syria. Picture:
Ms Smith gives an interview to ITV in Syria. Picture:

The Al-Hol camp is notorious as it holds Shamima Begum, one of the so-called teenage jihadist brides from east London, along with at least half a dozen British Isil members.

Irish Isil bride Lisa Smith and her young daughter were moved from there to another camp in Syria in April.

A second mass release of Al-Hol residents is expected to follow later this week.

The releases were decided despite concerns the camp has become a powder keg for extremism, with some of its people still radicalised.

The SDF has maintained a practice of negotiating with local Arab tribes to engineer the controlled release of Syrians back into society.

"The SDF early on decided on this approach, and it worked very well in Raqqa, for example, two and a half years ago," said Dareen Khalifa, International Crisis Group's senior Syria analyst.

"They find a member of the community, usually a Kurd, who acts as an interlocutor between the SDF and the Arab tribes."

Huge swathes of the Syrian population were swept up into Isil, many not on ideological grounds, but just for basic survival as the jihadist group took over large swathes of Syria..

Those to be returned, Ms Khalifa said, will be pardoned by the SDF before being released from custody.

Today's group consists of residents of Raqqa and the town of Tabqa, 60km to the west.

Those suspected of having links to Isil will be kept under surveillance by local tribes, who have given guarantees, said Abd al-Mehbach, co-chairman of the Kurdish administration's executive council.

"It is the (Kurdish) administration's duty to its people to play a role in the rehabilitation of these women and children and their reintegration into society," he said.

Ali Mahamid Ali, a Raqqa tribal leader, said Arab tribes were trying to secure the release of all Syrian women held in Al-Hol, including by offering guarantees.

"They are all our sisters, our mothers," he said.

In deeply tribal eastern Syria, such a guarantee is an ironclad promise and could serve as a bulwark against the spread of Isil ideology by former members.

But, for the SDF, there is also a powerful financial driver to get Al-Hol's population under control.

Each camp resident costs around €27 per day to feed and house, according to Crisis Group research - and that's before security costs.

Despite its military backing, the US has offered limited support for the battle's aftermath, supporting the construction of just one prison.

Although there has been extensive coverage of foreign fighters, women and children, they are relatively few: fewer than 2,000 foreign men are thought to be in SDF custody.

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