Nearly 800 women and children affiliated with Isis escaped from a camp in northern Syria on Sunday, Kurdish officials said.
An estimated 785 people are reported to have fled amid a Turkish offensive in the area, with many in the severely depleted Kurdish guard force forced to leave their posts to join the fighting.
Northern Syria’s Kurdish-led administration said “mercenaries” had attacked the Ain Issa camp where “Daesh elements” in turn attacked camp guards and opened the gates.
There is a state of “anarchy” inside the camp, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdulrahman, citing sources inside the holding facility.
The camp houses some 12,000 displaced people, including about 1,000 women and children affiliated with Isis, who have been fearful of the approaching military advance, SOHR said.
Kurdish officials initially said some members of Isis families had managed to slip out of the camp after it was shelled by advancing Turkish and Syrian rebel forces, later confirming that hundreds of people had escaped.
A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) official later warned they didn’t have sufficient numbers to guard the camp with many personnel redeployed to the front lines and some who remained fleeing amid the Turkish shelling.
“The guarding is very weak now,” SDF’s Marvan Qamishlo said.
The camp, situated roughly 50km north of Raqqa, would require 1,500 guards, he said, warning: “We don’t have this sufficient number.”
Other than Kurdish sources, there was no other independent verification for the claim that hundreds of Isis members had fled Ain al-Issa.
Advances by Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies had compounded the concerns of security personnel in the camp, giving rise to fears the site could be encircled, Mr Qamishlo said.
Reports from aid workers suggest the camp is now completely empty of foreign women, with foreign masked men on motorbikes circling the camp.
There is a danger that children of foreign nationals could now be lost in the chaos, Save the Children said.
“Once again, we urgently call on foreign governments to repatriate their nationals while they can. The opportunity is quickly slipping away,” said Save the Children's Syria response director Sonia Khush.
“We heard reports that the authorities on the ground took some of the foreign women to another location, but many have fled and some are unaccounted for.”
The claim of over 800 Isis escapees may be exaggerated. The sprawling, lightly guarded camp at Ain al-Issa overwhelmingly shelters ordinary Syrian civilians. Other than a small contingent of alleged Isis wives and civilians Ain al-Issa is not known to house the most hardcore members of the jihadi group, who are held in more heavily fortified facilities.
As news broke of the escape, a war monitor said the invading troops had seized large parts nearby town Suluk.
On Friday, five Isis fighters broke free from a jail in northeast Syria, amid bombardment by Turkish troops.
Purported jihadis on the messaging app Telegram urged the escapees to get in touch with them for advice and support, urging the foreign female detainees to locate smugglers to get them out of the country.
Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a 16 September speech set the freeing of prisoners belonging to the group as a priority.
Turkey last week launched “Operation Peace Spring” in northern Syria, after the US effectively green-lit the offensive.
Two of Turkey’s NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey and the Arab League has denounced the operation amid global outcry.
As the Turkish invasion entered its fifth day, the UN said at least 130,000 people had been displaced by the conflict, with many more likely on the move.
Additional reporting by agencies
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