Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that they had arrested 125 suspected ISIS members during an anti-ISIS security operation in a northeast Syria camp for relatives of militants.
The sprawling tent camp houses 62,000 people.
The U.S.-backed SDF has been sweeping the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria and is trying to clear the area’s biggest displacement camp of ISIS operatives and recruiters. ISIS terrorists have murdered more than 40 people, execution-style, in al-Hol since the beginning of the year.
SDF officials told the Voice of America that the first phase of the operation has been completed. SDF troops, numbering over 5,000, conducted a tent-by-tent search for Islamic State operatives resulting in the arrests which included 20 sleeper cell leaders responsible for the murders taking place inside the camp.
While the SDF claim to have made significant progress, they also say that the danger is far from over. The al-Hol camp holds mostly Iraqis and Syrians, but also people from several other countries.
Ali al-Hassan, a spokesman for the Asayish internal security forces, said in a statement that “Many members of the IS terrorist organization have moved to the camps as civilians in order to reorganize the camp and create a conducive atmosphere.”
“Without international support, it will not last long,” he said of the sweep. “The international community must help, and the citizens of every country must return to their homeland,” he added.
The SDF was aided by Kurdish Asayish security forces. Heavily armed troops surrounded the camp while others began the search and, using biometric data, were able to identify and arrest the Islamic State operatives. They also confiscated mobile phones and laptops. One Kurdish SDF official told AFP that the ISIS operatives dug trenches inside the camp to hide the electronic devices.
While most of the inhabitants of al-Hol are women and children under the age of 12, who were displaced due to the ISIS takeover of their homeland, thousands more are wives and children of hardcore Islamic State terrorists.
SDF officials said to the Voice of America that ISIS was using al-Hol as a base to reorganize, refit, and reassert its presence.
While the Kurds struggle to contain the Islamic State, Russia and Iran who are allied with Syria, and ostensibly in the country to fight ISIS, have done nothing to keep roads clear of ISIS checkpoints and bases.
The camp at al-Hol has been the scene of murders as well as several breakout attempts.
At another one of the camps in al-Roj, the families of ISIS members have cell phones to communicate with family members in Europe and ask them for cash to be sent via hawala.
Hawala is an informal and completely untraceable banking system whereby an individual in a Western nation gives cash to a local agent. The agent reaches a contact inside the camp who gives the money to the final recipient.
Western security services believe that the hawala system is used to fund terrorism. ISIS fighters use hawala to send cash to families inside the camps. The families use the cash to bribe smugglers to take them out of the camps and into Turkey from where they can find their way into Europe, where many of them are from.