Al Hol Camp
Photo by Cory Popp

Al Hol camp in Northeastern Syria holds holds more than 68,000 mostly ISIS-linked detainees. The Investigative Journal has made three trips to the camp over the past several months. On each trip, the security situation was increasingly dire. Camp officials said that after the launch of Turkey’s attacks on Northeastern Syria in October, much of the Asayish security personnel on site had to leave to repel Turkish attacks in other areas.

Murders and other violent acts in the camp are commonplace, usually committed by members of the “camp caliphate,” the detainees at al Hol who still adhere to ISIS’ ideology and respond with force to those who express differing views. In addition to rampant violence, the size of the camp and lack of adequate security have made routine escapes an inevitability.

“People try to escape every day, and people do escape every week,” a camp administrator told The Investigative Journal. She told the Investigative Journal that, while a number of the ISIS escapees wanted to settle in Idlib or Deir Ezzor, the latter suffering mounting insecurity and frequent attacks by ISIS sleeper cells, most wanted to cross out of Syria to Turkey. 

A journalist living in Turkey contacted The Investigative Journal and offered information detailing one such escape on the condition of anonymity. “I’ve faced so many death threats for my work,” the journalist said. “And so I cannot release this information myself.”

Hatice Güneş, Hafsa Güneş, Beyza Güneş, and Berire Güneş.

On December 21, 2019, four Turkish nationals, Hatice Güneş, Hafsa Güneş, Beyza Güneş, and Berire Güneş, escaped from the al Hol Camp. The escape was confirmed to The Investigative Journal by an SDF source.

According to the journalist, the women slipped out of the camp, and with the help of a smuggler, went to Manbij and then Jarabulus. “Jarabulus is occupied by Turkish forces,” the journalist said. “And these women went to the Turkish police there. The Turkish police helped their crossing into Turkey. They are free in Turkey now.”

According to to the journalist, ISIS members of Turkish nationality are routinely assisted by Turkish military and police in occupied Afrin and Jarabulus in escaping to Turkey. “I started paying close attention to how Turkey deals with ISIS members after noticing that ISIS members, especially ISIS leaders, were arrested in Turkey and then quickly released after,” the journalist said. “I have much more information, but as I’m living in Turkey, it’s too dangerous for me to share it. They wouldn’t just arrest me. I think they would kill me.”

Lindsey Snell
Lindsey Snell

Lindsey Snell is a print and video journalist specializing in conflict and humanitarian crises. She has produced documentary-style videos for MSNBC, VICE, Vocativ, ABC News, Ozy, Yahoo News, and Discovery Digital Networks. Her print work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Daily Beast, al Araby and others. One of her pieces, on Aleppo schools hit by airstrikes, won an Edward R. Murrow award in 2016.

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