More than 100 Islamic State fighters staged a break from a prison held by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria late Thursday night and into Friday. Meanwhile, more ISIS fighters attacked a military base in Iraq, killing 11 Iraqi soldiers as they slept.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Farhad Shami told the Associated Press more than 100 ISIS fighters using machine guns and vehicle bombs attacked the Geweran Prison in northeastern Syria where an estimated 3,000 captured ISIS militants are being held. While the ISIS fighters attacked from the outside and set off a car bomb, prisoners inside then rioted and tried to escape, adding to the chaos and keeping the guards busy.
Shami said seven Kurdish SDF troops were killed and several more were wounded. At least 23 ISIS fighters were also killed.
ISIS has also claimed responsibility for the attack. The ISIS Amaq News Agency published a statement which said, “Islamic State fighters have launched a massive attack on ‘Ghweran’ prison in al-Hasakah governorate since yesterday evening, with the aim of liberating prisoners held inside, and other neighborhoods and clashes are still ongoing in the prison’s surroundings.”
According to the Associated Press, prison breaks have been a favored strategy of ISIS militants over the years. Shami said this particular prison break is “the biggest attack not only in Syria but also in Iraq and the region” and the prisoners include ISIS commanders and “are among the most dangerous.”
Associated Press correspondent Bassem Mroue tweeted, “Intense fighting still ongoing since Thursday night between #SDF and #ISIS fighters near Gweiran prison in #Syria’s northeastern city of Hassakeh. IS fighters tried to storm Gweiran prison where some 3,000 IS militants, including some commanders, are held in order to free them.”
Voice of America correspondent Jeff Seldin has since tweeted, “NEW: Coalition official confirms coalition aircraft are flying in support of the #SDF operations in #Hasakah in NE #Syria following an attempted prison break by #ISIS sleeper cells and inmates.”
SDF forces said 89 escaped prisoners have been arrested so far. ISIS prisoners attempted another escape on Friday.
According to an SDF press statement, ISIS fighters burned blankets and plastic inside the prison dormitories to add to the chaos and confusion. The ISIS fighters have reportedly since retreated to the al-Zohour nearby neighborhood, where they are continuing to hold out against SDF forces.
Around the same time ISIS fighters staged their attack on the prison in Syria, another group of ISIS fighters attacked an army barracks in a mountainous area north of Baghdad, Iraq. An Iraqi security forces media account announced ISIS fighters killed 11 Iraqi soldiers, including an officer, while they slept.
Two Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that ISIS fighters snuck into the barracks at around 3 a.m. local time and shot the soldiers before running away.
The Iraqi security forces account said a search is underway for the perpetrators of the barracks attack.