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Syria: 100 children still missing after Islamic State attack on Hasakah jail

Children's fate remains unknown more than two months after IS attacked facility, UN experts say
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand guard during a press conference in Syria's northeastern city of Hasakah after the IS attack on Ghwayran prison, on 31 January 2022 (AFP)

The fate of 100 children who had been detained in a Syrian prison is unknown more than two months after Islamic State (IS) fighters attacked the facility, United Nations experts said on Friday.

International rights groups, including Save the Children and Human Rights Watch, have previously said 700 boys had been in the jail, controlled by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in northeastern Hasakah province before it was attacked. 

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"We are extremely concerned that since the January 2022 attack, the fate and whereabouts of at least 100 of those boys remain unaccounted for, which raises serious concerns," the UN human rights experts said in a statement. 

"Some of these cases might amount to enforced disappearance."

Aged 12-18, the detainees included many who had adult relatives inside Ghwayran prison and were transferred from nearby displacement camps housing thousands of children of IS fighters.

The SDF's Farhad Shami told Middle East Eye at the time of the attack that the minors held at the prison "have been trained on the jihadi ideology", though some were undergoing a rehabilitation programme.

Unimpeded access

The independent experts called on the de facto authorities to allow all humanitarian actors to have full and unimpeded access to children still held at Ghwayran, AFP reported.

"Harm to these children must be identified, and those responsible must be held accountable to prevent impunity," the UN experts said.

The IS prison break attempt from Ghwayran triggered a week of clashes inside and around the facility, leaving hundreds dead, before Kurdish-led forces recaptured the jail.  

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"Many of the boys detained in the prisons were seriously injured during the jailbreak and their wounds are not receiving critical medical treatment," the UN experts said.

Kurdish authorities maintain that no one escaped but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said several fighters had avoided capture.

IS controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 but it was territorially defeated in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

While it may still be without territory, January's prison break was a sign that the group still has weapons and loyal combatants.

In the nearby al-Hol camp, where Kurdish authorities hold women suspected of being IS members and their children, the group has assassinated detainees, beheading several people.

In July, the State Department’s envoy to the US-led coalition battling the group warned that deteriorating economic conditions in Iraq and Syria were paving the way for IS to reconstitute.

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