01/25/2022, 18.28
SYRIA
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Bishop Audo: the Islamic State attack against Ghwayran prison had military support

Citing sources, the prelate reports that the situation seems to be improving after “fierce fighting”. The jihadi raid sought to free jailed militants and their families. Fears are growing over the fate of 850 children trapped in the prison. At least 150 people have died since the attack began.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Last Thursday, a commando stormed Ghwayran prison, Hasaka, north-eastern Syria, which held members of the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadi groups.

The situation “seems to be improving” and the intensity of the fighting seems “to have abated a bit,” but the real “element of surprise" is how armed men “arrived in the area without problems and easily launched their attack,” said Mgr Antoine Audo, Chaldean bishop of Aleppo and former president of Caritas Syria.

The attack triggered the response of Kurdish forces that control the area. Supported by air strikes of the US-led international coalition, they have kept the area cordoned off, including the local Christian community.

“The priest with whom I am in contact spoke to me about the attack against the Kurdish prison, which holds thousands of prisoners,” said the prelate.

“They set fire to the structure, then fled. The reaction of the Kurds triggered fierce fighting,” which included the intervention of US planes and forces.

Hitherto, jihadi groups were thought to “no longer constitute a danger”, at least in Syria, but this attack “shows that they are still active and ready to strike.”

Local Christians “are sheltering at home and in the church”, but now it seems that the situation "is calming down".

At least 45,000 people have fled their homes in Hasaka, in northeastern Syria, a predominantly Kurdish region, scene of the bloody IS raid to free jailed fighters and their families.

The fate of many children is also at stake. According to some estimates, some 850 children were held in Ghwayran prison. They could end up in the hands of IS fighters after the incident.

About 300 jailed militants surrendered to Kurdish security forces. More than 150 people are reported to have been killed since IS launched its attack.

The surprise attack shows how much jihadi cells are still active in Syria, not to mention Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group with a large network of informants on the ground, said on Monday that 102 IS fighters, seven civilians and 45 Kurdish members of security forces and prison guards have died in clashes at the prison since Thursday.

UNICEF is alarmed by the fate of the 850 children caught up in the fighting; some are as young as 12 and their safety is at “serious risk”.

“As fighting continues, the risk for children increases including to be harmed or forcibly recruited,” the UN agency said.

IS is no stranger to using children, dubbed “caliphate cubs”, in extreme missions, such as carrying out suicide attacks or executing prisoners.

“In Iraq, there are more dormant cells ready to strike,” explained Bishop Audo. “They can rely on vast desert areas to shelter.”

“This is less so in Syria, where the Syrian military exerts greater control. But jihadi fighters are concentrated in Idlib province. This is why the attack took everybody by surprise, because of the ease with which they were able to move. This suggests they had military support.”

Such outbreaks of violence must be carefully monitored, but “what is the most worrying fact is poverty and lack of jobs. At present, this is the real emergency” in Syria. “This is where the Church can focus its action.”

Speaking about local Christians, the prelate noted: “They are weaker because they constitute a minority caught in the crossfire, between two opposing forces.

“So far, at least, there seems to be no immediate danger of attacks against churches or the community. We do everything possible to remain, to be faithful to the country and bear witness though our mission.”

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