Resurrecting terror in the AANES: Turkey’s ISIS prison riot in Hesekê

ISIS militants backed by Erdoğan’s regime in Turkey launched an attack on the Sina’a Prison on January 20th, the declaration anniversary of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

The report focuses on the January 20 attack by ISIS against a detention center holding ISIS members in the northern Syrian city of Hesekê and calls on the UN and international legal bodies to provide the necessary assistance and support for the prosecution of ISIS members. Remarking that ISIS can never be fully defeated as long as Turkey’s occupation of Syrian areas does not end, KNK points out that Erdoğan is exploiting the silence of the USA, UN, NATO, EU, and the Council of Europe as an opportunity to seek revenge against Kurds for the defeat of ISIS and expand his Neo-Ottoman vision.

The KNK report published on Monday includes the following:

5,000 ISIS prisoners from 54 nations were detained at the Sina’a Prison in Hesekê (Hasakah) in Rojava (northern Syria). As a result, ISIS militants backed by Erdoğan’s regime in Turkey launched an attack to rescue them on January 20th, 2022 – a date which was chosen because it is the declaration anniversary of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

The first step in their attempted escape was a coordinated riot at Sina’a Prison, which began on January 20th at 7:30 pm, at the same time as a suicide car bomb explosion against the prison gate and walls. This initial attack killed several guards on the perimeter of the prison and began a larger assault by ISIS attackers in order to support the riot now beginning inside.

The shock troops of this well-organized prison break were over 200 ISIS members from Turkish-occupied areas of Rojava (Serê Kaniyê & Girê Spî) and the border areas near Iraq. And as their assault began, the ISIS inmates began to burn their blankets to cause chaos and confusion inside. Seeing this emerging threat to the region, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sent fighters to reinforce the civilian security forces and prison guards, but they were attacked by Turkish military drones and aircraft, who were providing air cover for the ISIS assault.

Turkey’s strategic goals

The Turkish state and dictatorship of Tayyip Erdoğan utilized ISIS as their own proxy mercenaries against the AANES, as they have from the very beginning. Turkey actively provided these attackers planning, logistical, and intelligence support, similar to how MIT Turkish Intelligence reinforced their “jihadi highway” from Istanbul to Gaziantep and into Syria for years. The strategic aim was to revive ISIS terror against the AANES and their democratic and multi-ethnic philosophy governing the region – represented by the MSD (Syrian Democratic Council).

Objectives of Damascus

Assad’s government also tried to take advantage of the situation, by initially blaming the SDF and Coalition Forces for the mayhem at the prison. Rather than standing by the AANES against Turkey – a nation which has illegally occupied Syrian soil for years, Damascus dishonestly claimed that war crimes had been committed and the demography of the area had been changed by the SDF. The aim was to weaken the AANES and make Assad’s return to the area more likely, by mischaracterizing the conflict as an ethnic one i.e., Kurds versus Arabs.

The reality is that Kurds and Arabs, alongside other ethnicities such as Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians, and Turkmen, all serve honorably in the SDF and are represented within the political structures of the AANES. In fact, it is Assad’s regime where ethnicity or religion is a barrier to entry. Yet the hope has always been that Assad’s forces would understand that Turkey is an enemy of all Syrians and stand alongside the SDF to liberate the areas terrorized by Turkish mercenaries such as Afrin, but instead they have recently chosen to spread propaganda that only helps Ankara’s goals.

The reason is because Damascus hopes to return to power throughout AANES areas, backed up with Russian support. Therefore, they believed that a successful ISIS prison break would have allowed them to argue that intervention by the Syrian Army was needed and that Arab-majority areas of the AANES should return to their military control.

Thankfully, because of the SDF’s heroism and sacrifice, another historic victory was achieved on January 26th, and Turkey’s prison attack to resurrect ISIS was defeated. As punishment, one week later, on February 1st, 2022, the Turkish Air Force and their drones began attacking the Dêrik region of Rojava, alongside neighboring Kurdish areas of Şengal (Sinjar) and Mexmûr (Maxmur) in Southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq). These were spiteful war crimes and revenge by Erdoğan, to display his anger at losing another ISIS-led battle, as he previously did with Kobanê’s famous victory.

ISIS prisoners as a powder keg

Sina’a Prison is a former school building and therefore not intended to hold thousands of dangerous detainees securely. Additionally, the tens of thousands of ISIS family members (wives and children) held in the nearby Al Hol camp exacerbate AANES’s challenge of keeping the region and indeed, the world, free from ISIS terror.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says 12,000 men and boys, including as many as 4,000 foreigners from over 50 countries, are being held by the SDF in several detention centers. While some civic groups make accusations of mistreatment of these detainees, the AANES denies such claims and points out the extreme logistical challenges that the world has left to them, since so many nations refuse to repatriate ISIS members from their countries.

For instance, every day in the Al Hol camp, there are attacks such as assaults, killings, beheadings, and arson by ISIS detainees, against the security staff and fellow inmates in the camp. Making matters worse, children are also recruited in these camps and as they age, they evolve from teenagers into potentially dangerous ISIS attackers.

The AANES is occasionally criticized for keeping children in these camps, however this is unfair, as the rest of the world has neglected their responsibilities and left them with the full burden of dealing with the remnants of ISIS. Making matters worse, the AANES is constantly under Turkish attack, which many Western nations are complicit in because of their refusal to stop Erdoğan. The silence in Western capital cities becomes the violence of Turkey’s mercenaries.

The solution is for nations to take their citizens back who joined ISIS and also help in establishing an international court so the others can be tried for their war crimes. A desire that has unfortunately fallen on deaf ears.

The symbiosis of Turkey & ISIS

Turkey and ISIS are both strategic and ideological partners, who usually act in unison together. The prison break attack has once again shined a light on how each time ISIS rises up to sow terror, they are supported with a coinciding Turkish military attack or invasion.

From the time that international ISIS militants began landing at Istanbul Airports from around the world in 2014, the terror group emerged as a serious threat to Kurdistan, Syria, Iraq, the wider Middle East, and indeed the entire globe. In a brief period of time with Turkish state assistance, financing, and military support, ISIS was able to recruit over a hundred thousand mercenaries and lead a widescale campaign of terror, which even made its way to European cities.

In a very short time, ISIS was able to occupy half of Syria and a third of Iraq to proclaim their so-called Caliphate. At the time, observers were shocked how this could happen, but any realistic investigation shows Turkey’s fingerprints on every ISIS gain and victory. In fact, the true “state” behind the so-called “Islamic State” was the Turkish one. This was most on display during the heroic battle of Kobanê, where Turkish tanks blockaded escaping Kurdish civilians and helped surround the city from the Turkish border, but merely waived at ISIS attackers rather than fire on them. This was understandable however, as the ideology of ISIS is compatible with the vision and philosophy of Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party).

The AANES has amassed thousands of documents, financial records, testimonials, and interviews that irrefutably prove how ISIS was under Turkish intelligence and Erdoğan’s supervision. This basic fact is the worst kept secret in the world, as any basic research on Turkey and ISIS shows an entire tangled web of support and assistance.

Similar to ISIS, Erdoğan wants an Islamic regime that serves his power interests. Interestingly however, it has little to do with real Islam and is more about Turkish expansionism through utilizing Salafist-driven mercenaries. Erdoğan views the citizens of the Middle East as former Ottomans (because they were not liberated from the Ottoman Empire until 1923) and desires a return of their subjugation. According to Erdoğan’s worldview, the Ottoman Empire (1453-1923) was the original “Islamic State” and “Caliphate”, which he would like to recreate again.

Indeed, ISIS and Erdoğan both subscribe to a Salafist ideology heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. For his part, Erdoğan’s political ties to the Muslim Brotherhood dates back to the 1970’s when he participated in conferences organized by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Wahhabi-Salafist organization. This “neighborly” relationship of like-minded goals was essential to the success of ISIS, and it continues until today.

If anyone wants to see the result of this ideology on full display, they only need to look at Turkish occupied Efrîn (Afrin), which has been transformed from the gem of Rojava into a hellscape of rape, murder, looting, theft, kidnapping, torture, organ harvesting, and sexual enslavement. Efrîn is the personification of the ISIS and Turkish state alliance, and a blueprint of what Turkey would like to thrust onto all of northern Syria.

Throughout Efrîn Turkey proves Turkification is their true goal and that they will merely employ Arab or central Asian Salafist mercenaries to unwittingly fulfill these ends. This pan-Turkic Neo-Ottoman ideology of Erdoğan is a vital component of Ankara’s desire for regional expansion and domination throughout the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Turkic states of central Asia, and even into northern Africa. It just so happens that Kurds and Kurdistan are the first hurdle he must overcome to fulfill this dream.

In this perverse vision, Erdoğan casts himself as the international defender and spokesman of the Muslim World, despite the fact that the majority of his ISIS mass graves are filled with people who believed in varying versions of Islam. Nevertheless, he hopes to mask his Turkish-nationalism with a faux-Islamic consciousness, where he can employ impoverished and desperate mercenaries from the war-torn Middle East, to destabilize the entire region and use Turkey to fill the voids. This twisted nightmare has already been aimed at Kurdistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Artsakh, Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt, with many more nations to follow. Thus, it is only with a united response that the international community can stand up to Turkish state terrorism.


The attempted ISIS prison break by Turkey shows that international cooperation is needed now more than ever. The UN and international legal bodies should provide the necessary assistance and support for the prosecution of ISIS members. Those states whose citizens are ISIS members and families should seek ways to rehabilitate them after a fair trial. An international court should also be established or an officially recognized international court could be established in North and East Syria to prosecute necessary ISIS offenders. But do effectively do this, the Turkish state must also stop supporting ISIS, so that they can be fully defeated.

To that end, Turkey must stop creating safe zones for ISIS terrorists in occupied Syria. For every step that the SDF and coalition makes towards the defeat of ISIS, Ankara is there to cause one step back towards the abyss of terror. For as long as Turkey’s occupation of Syrian areas does not end, ISIS can never be fully defeated.

Turkey as a member state of the UN, Council of Europe, and NATO should be forced to comply with international law and withdraw from Syria’s sovereign territory. Ankara has no right to subjugate the Kurds of Efrîn any more than they do the Arabs of Idlib.

But justice also requires restoration, so Erdoğan’s regime and the Turkish state must be held criminally and financially liable for all of the war crimes they have committed. Every drop of blood ISIS spilled was done with Turkey’s help and they must be held accountable.

The international community can also help achieve a lasting peace by diplomatically recognizing the AANES and supporting them against any future Turkish attacks. It is dishonest to hail the SDF for their heroism in defeating ISIS, while also allowing Turkey to attack them to help bring ISIS back from the dead.

Delisting the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party)

Lastly, a crucial step towards peace would be for the USA and EU to immediately remove the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) from their “terrorist” list. This is because Turkey legitimizes their war crimes and invasions of Kurdish areas throughout Rojava and Southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq) under the claim that PKK guerrillas are present. And because the USA and EU both dishonestly have the PKK on their list of terrorist organizations in order to sell weapons to Turkey, this allows Erdoğan to dishonestly claim that he is fighting his own “war on terror.” It should be noted however that the PKK has never attacked or killed a single American, and they have no desire to bring harm to the EU.

In fact, the PKK has been committed to fighting for Kurdish self-determination for the last 42 years, but they are merely a reaction to Turkish state oppression. Without the thousands of burned down Kurdish villages, thousands of murdered Kurdish victims by death squads, and millions of Kurdish citizens denied the right to speak their mother tongue and live as Kurds within Turkey, the PKK would not exist. Kurdish guerrillas are a reaction to Turkish state terrorism, not the cause of it.

Turkey’s war however is not really against the PKK, but against any free Kurds wherever they live. They fear the PKK for the same reason they fear the man and women of the YPG and YPJ or the AANES, or the mixed ethnic forces of the SDF, namely because all of these groups are organized and defenders of freedom and democracy; virtues which Turkey does not believe Kurds deserve. Even Turkish academics and intellectuals who speak of these values find themselves thrown into Erdoğan’s dungeons for decades, showing that this is both an ethnic attempt at cultural genocide but also an ideological battle of ideals.

A report from the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan in Syria and Turkey from June 2021, clearly shows that Erdoğan is using the PKK as a pretext to maintain his autocratic power. Moreover, the January 2020 ruling of Belgium’s Supreme Court, states that EU anti-terrorism legislation cannot be applied to the PKK, since it is party in a non-international armed conflict or civil war where the use of legitimate military force is allowed.

Furthermore, it was the PKK fighters who defended not only the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar from ISIS genocide in 2014, but helped win the battle of Kobanê against ISIS, and helped defend the cities of Kirkuk and Mexmûr against an ISIS invasion. Therefore, it is dishonest for the Western world to cheer on the defeat of ISIS and indeed assist with it, and then list their allies against ISIS (the PKK) as a terrorist organization. In this battle for survival, you either stand with ISIS or those who defeat them (like the PKK).

The PKK have proven to be a legitimate voice of the Kurdish people, a group that has sacrificed 25,000 military casualties so far in the defeat of ISIS on behalf of all of humanity. Tragically, those martyrs join the 121 recent defenders of Sina’a Prison who lost their lives (many of them Kurds, but also Arab and Assyrian). But the common denominator on all of their deaths is Turkish state assistance, fueled by a pathological fear of Kurdish happiness and freedom.

In conclusion

Erdoğan is exploiting the silence of the USA, UN, NATO, EU, and the Council of Europe as an opportunity to seek revenge against Kurds for the defeat of ISIS and expand his Neo-Ottoman vision. The same Yazidis in Şingal who ISIS failed to annihilate, are repeatedly being bombed by Turkish jets, as Ankara desires to finish what ISIS started. And just like the ISIS leaders killed on the Turkish border over the last few years, Erdoğan will not halt his reign of murder and occupation until he is forced to stop.