World

’Hundreds of IS relatives escape camp in Syria’

Hundreds of foreigners affiliated with the Islamic State group (IS) have escaped from a camp in northern Syria amid a Turkish offensive, Kurdish officials say.

They say detainees attacked gates at the Ain Issa displacement camp as fighting raged nearby.

Turkey launched an assault last week aimed at driving Kurdish-led forces from the region.

The United Nations (UN) says 130,000 people have fled their homes, and the figure may rise.

Turkey accuses the Kurds of being terrorists and says it wants to force them away from a “safe zone” reaching some 30km into Syria.

It also plans to resettle more than three million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey – many of whom are not Kurds – inside the zone, which critics say could lead to ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population there.

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from the area effectively triggered the Turkish incursion against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – the main Western allies in the fight against IS.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper told CBS News on Sunday that the US was now preparing to evacuate about 1,000 troops who remained in northern Syria.

Details of the escape are still emerging – a monitoring group put the number who fled at 100, but Kurdish authorities say almost 800 relatives of foreign IS members have escaped.

Ain Issa holds about 12,000 displaced people, previously including nearly 1,000 foreign women and children with jihadist links.

It is reportedly now empty of foreign women, according to charity Save the Children, which says “foreign masked men on motorbikes are circling the camp”.

BBC Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says it’s unclear where the detainees might have gone, if their escape is confirmed.

But it gives new force to the Kurds’ exasperated threat that they cannot guarantee the security of the thousands of IS suspects they hold in the face of the Turkish offensive, our correspondent adds.

“Whoever cares about the secure detention of the prisoners, they are welcome to come and find a solution,” senior official Redur Xelil said, warning the Turkish operation was opening the way for IS to regroup.

The SDF says it is currently holding more than 12,000 suspected IS members in seven prisons, and at least 4,000 of them are foreign nationals. The exact locations have not been revealed, but some are reportedly close to the Turkish border. -BBC

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