'The prison attack in Hesekê was planned by MIT'
With the storming of the Sina prison in Hesekê a year ago, ISIS wanted to re-establish its caliphate in Syria. Investigations point to direct Turkish involvement and the threat remains high.
Newroz Ehmed, member of the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spoke to ANF w on the attempted release of mercenaries from Sina prison in Hesekê on 20 January 2022. Many new details have come to light during the investigation of the events, but they have still not been conclusively clarified.
A year ago, the attempted storming of Sina prison took place. What can you say about the results of the investigation?
A year has passed since the attack. There have been many arrests and multi-layered investigations have taken place. First of all, it was a question of clarifying from where and how this attack was carried out. In the run-up, there were indications of an imminent attack. Many attempted attacks could be prevented. However, we could not foresee that an attack of this magnitude would occur.
This attack was organised at the highest level. After the previously foiled attacks, this attack was organised by the top leadership through small groups. It was organised by the top leadership of ISIS in the Turkish-occupied areas. The Turkish intelligence service MIT drew up the plans for how the jihadists and their equipment would be transported to the region. The attack was calculated in every detail. It was not just an attack by ISIS and its leadership. It was organised by Turkey itself.
THE ATTACK ALSO HAD AN IRAQI FOOTHOLD
The attack also had an Iraqi foothold. The plan ultimately included the liberation of ISIS members from Hol Camp. Both the detainees and their families were meant to be taken out. For this, a comprehensive plan of attack was worked out. In order to communicate with the prisoners, technical devices such as telephones were smuggled in. It was specified exactly what the gang members in the prison would do during the attack from the outside. For this purpose, ISIS cells were stationed in the neighbourhoods near the prison. This shows that the attack was prepared over a long period of time.
The people we arrested confessed that the attack had been planned from the outside. Both outsiders and insiders who were involved in the attack plan confessed to it. The planning was limited to a small number. Not even all the prisoners knew about it. It was an attack plan that very few people inside and outside knew about. The arriving groups were told the attack plan and the targets only at the last moment. It was explained to them how each target was prepared. This is how they were sent to our region. They were organised from outside.
How did the weapons and technical aids get into the prison? And what was done about the security breach that was uncovered during the investigation after the attack?
The security of the prison is maintained by our forces, but the building was not safe and suitable. Many measures were taken in advance. Measures were taken against infiltration attempts by digging tunnels around the prison. Many operations were carried out because it was known that there were many things there.
Our forces tried to strengthen the measures. We wanted to make the prison, which is the most dangerous detention centre for ISIS members, more secure, but we did not have the means to do so. Our technical capabilities are very weak. Technically, our internal security forces have a lot of experience, but our capabilities are limited when it comes to checking what was smuggled into the prison, tracking down existing phones and tracing them.
During the investigation launched after the attack, smuggled-in telephones, cards and, in some cases, ammunition were found. How they were smuggled in was of course revealed in the investigation. The necessary measures were taken and accountability demanded. But our options in this regard are limited. The guards who had direct contact with the prisoners were trained to do so, but just very limited. We do not have much experience in this regard. Since the crushing of ISIS’ territorial rule in spring 2019, we have suddenly had a huge number of prisoners. We had to take the necessary measures in a short period of time, and we found major shortcomings.
Did the international coalition against ISIS not help in this regard?
The necessary measures were taken according to the information passed on by the intelligence services present in the region. However, this was not enough. As mentioned earlier, our limited resources led to this attack and its consequences. We know a lot and want to do a lot, but we cannot because we do not have the means. We expressed this several times and asked for help. The burden of ISIS prisoners cannot be left to the SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria alone. It is a burden that brings with it a great responsibility.
This attack was a very dangerous plan. If it had been implemented as planned, a "caliphate" could have been declared again for both the prison and the camp. It was very dangerous for the whole region and also for the whole world. There was also an international aspect here. Everyone said: ISIS is over, the SDF are in control and are protecting us. With that, they withdrew. The necessary support and assistance were very limited and there was no serious approach to dealing with the situation. We expressed this many times. However, since last year's attack, we assume that the matter is being treated with more seriousness.
You said that the prison building was not suitable. What kind of building are the prisoners now housed in? Have all the necessary measures been taken against a new attack?
The arrested ISIS members were moved to a newly built prison. But again, there are few relevant measures in place. A solid prison building is not enough either. There are many examples of prisoners escaping even from high security prisons in other countries. A solid building alone is not enough, many necessary measures must be taken. The most dangerous thing is to leave the ISIS members to their own devices. We have already mentioned it: ISIS prisoners hope for their liberation and the re-establishment of their "caliphate". They must be brought to justice, and everyone must take responsibility for this. Let us take the necessary measures together. We need a strong commitment to this issue.
So it is not enough just to make the prisons safer. What is needed for a fundamental solution?
A year has passed since the attack, but resources and support are still inadequate. Even the supply of food, drinks and necessary medicine is a big problem. Leaving everything to the autonomous administration and the SDF is not right, legally or otherwise. There are prisoners from more than 50 countries. Some of them are supposed to be taken over, but it is a very limited number. Some countries have stepped in, other countries don't even mention it. It is as if they do not exist. Even after this attack, they have not shown the necessary attitude. Some countries said they would expatriate the interned mercenaries. Beyond that, no further step was taken.
Some measures have been implemented with our own resources and with partial support from the coalition. However, we have some weaknesses, as the investigations have shown. Especially in the area of intelligence and security forces in prisons, there is still a lack of support. There is not only one prison, but also many other prisons in the region. There are prisons in the region that house even more dangerous ISIS members. There is information about dangers regarding these prisons.
ISIS ORGANISES ITSELF INSIDE THE PRISONS
These places require very extensive and long-term plans. There are some measures that we have taken within our means. Because now there is information about a renewed attack on the region, including prisons. It is known that the leaders of ISIS, who have waged the war here for years and have experience, are making new plans in prison. During the operations carried out in the prisons, some materials were seized that indicate the reorganisation. The interned ISIS members are being prepared. They say so themselves. They say that they are waiting for the day when they will be released.
Because nothing has been done against them. There is no punishment. There is no one to take care of them. This is dangerous. Now there are plans to reach them. The key leaders and staff are in these prisons. There are attempts and efforts to do this and they are continuing. The recent attack in Raqqa is part of that. There is information to that effect in many areas. So, we need more mobilisation in this regard. We need more support and help. Everyone needs to actively take their responsibility.
Can you say something about the ongoing investigations?
We have carried out an investigation within our means. There are still some aspects that need to be clarified. Because there were telephone numbers from Turkey and many other countries. It would have been necessary to find out to whom they belonged. Our possibilities to identify them are limited. We have communicated this to other forces. However, there is no desired result. Also, DNA tests would be necessary to find out who the people killed were. Our options are limited in this regard. Therefore, we cannot make clear statements on some questions yet. But that does not mean that we are not working on it. The investigation is still ongoing.
The captured ISIS members are being interrogated and the seized materials are being examined. Our work is not yet complete. We are trying to uncover what little is left. We have come to rough conclusions, but there are still some unclear details we are working on.