Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed allegation by northern Syria’s Kurdish administration that hundreds of foreigners affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) managed to escape a camp where they were being held following Turkish shelling on Sunday.
After the Turkish shells on Sunday crashed nearby the Ain Issa camp, which reportedly holds some ISIS relatives, 785 people had fled the camp, the region’s Kurdish sources said.
Erdogan dismissed the reports, claiming that accounts of escapes by the ISIS prisoners were “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
“The statement by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which said 785 detained ISIS members escaped [from a camp] is disinformation. By doing [saying] so now, [the PYD] aims at making the United States (US) or the West move [against Turkey],” Erdogan told Turkish media representatives at the presidential office in Dolmabahce Palace.
Erdogan said that the Turkish government had so far detained more than 7,000 ISIS foreigner fighters and deported most of them to countries from where they had come.
The Turkish shells depleted already-weakened guarding of the camp, as they caused the remaining security personnel to flee the camp, Marvan Qamishlo, an official from the Syrian Democratic Forces, told Reuters on Sunday.
According to the Kurdish reports, some “mercenaries” had first attacked the camp from the outside before some “ISIS elements” attacked the camp guards from the inside and opened the gates.
Similarly, on Thursday, the Kurdish authority had accused Turkey of shelling the Chirkin Prison in the city of Qamishli which holds the ISIS militants of more than 60 nationalities, calling the Turkish move “a clear attempt” to help them escape.
“These attacks on prisons holding Daesh [the ISIS] terrorists will lead to a catastrophe the consequences of which the world may not be able to handle later on,” the Kurdish statement said.
The authorities also shared video footage which showed a shell landing in the prison facility and some people opening doors and trying to leave.
Later on Friday, “five ISIS terrorists” were reported by the Kurdish officials to escape from the Navkur Prison after another Turkish shelling struck nearby the prison.
The prospect of mass breakouts of the ISIS members giving rise to fears of the revival of the group in the region once again.
“The Turkish invasion is no longer threatening the revival of Daesh [ISIS], rather it has revived it and activated its cells in Qamishli and Hassakeh and all the other areas. We are now fighting on two fronts: one front against the Turkish invasion and a front against Daesh,” the SDF official Redur Xelil said in a televised statement, referring to car bomb attacks in both cities.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the ISIS militants held in the camps could escape as a result of the Turkish operation in the region.
“I am not sure if the Turkish army can rapidly get this under control. We should simply understand this, know and mobilize the resources of our security services to neutralize this emerging new threat,” Putin said during a visit to Turkmenistan.
Gulnur Aybet, a senior adviser to President Erdogan, responded on Friday to allegations of fleeing ISIS militants.
“Very unfair to parade this kind of lies that we are bringing in the ISIS fighters. This is absolutely shameful. Have some respect for the people who died in Turkey from the ISIS attacks. Have some respect for our soldiers who died fighting the ISIS in Syria” the adviser told Channel 4 News.
Aybet voiced Erdogan’s repeating remarks on Turkey’s determination to go on with the current military operation.
“We are absolutely determined to go on with this operation. You cannot fight one terror group [the ISIS] by arming another terror group [the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)], it was bound to hit a wall this policy of the US which started in the previous administration” said Aybet.
Turkey on Wednesday launched the long-promised offensive into northeastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, against the YPG after the US pulled out its troops along the Syria-Turkey border.
The US pulling-out move surprised its ally YPG in fighting the ISIS jihadist “caliphate”.
Ankara’s stated aim with the offensive is to carve out a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
Turkey sees the YPG as an existential threat and as terrorists with close links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long insurgency within the country.
The Kurdish sources say thousands of people, including men, women, and children from more than 50 countries, are lingering in seven detention camps across Kurdish-led areas, announcing that the camps would be evacuated south following the Turkish shelling.
On Saturday, the US forces were reported by Syria-run news agency SANA to be moving 80 ISIS-affiliated foreign detainees from al-Shaddadi prison, southern countryside of Hasaka, into Iraq.