The seizure of Hasakah’s sprawling al-Sina’a prison complex by ISIS sleeper cells last week represented the most sophisticated and brazen attack by the group since its military defeat at the hands of SDF and Coalition forces three years ago. The attack was highly coordinated between ISIS operatives both inside and outside the prison walls, demonstrating the depth of corruption on the part of some elements within the SDF. For years, guards have allowed prisoners to obtain phones, smuggle contraband in and out of al-Sina’a, and openly communicate with sleeper cells in the region to execute the prison takeover. The attack was not unexpected, and the failure of the SDF to effectively head off the planned operation ahead of time demonstrates the extent of the mismanagement within the prison administration.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 6th February 2022
- Al-Sina’a prison battle: ISIS operatives in the Ghuwayran neighborhood of Hasakah seized control of the al-Sina’a prison, which houses around 3,500 men and boys thought to be affiliated with the group (20.1). The facility was first assaulted by suicide bombers driving explosives-laden vehicles, and operatives were then able to take control and hold sections of the prison for the next six days. Elite units of the SDF laid siege to al-Sina’a, assisted by Coalition advisors and aircraft that launched several strikes against the area, until growing numbers of ISIS fighters began surrendering and control was gradually reestablished over the prison. At least 180 people died during the battle, while a large but unverified number of prisoners managed to escape. Amidst intense fighting, lockdown orders, and the unavailability of fuel and bread in the area, around 4,000 local families were displaced to temporary shelters (25.1).
- Anti-SDF attacks: In addition to the al-Sina’a operation, ISIS elements continued to persistently target the SDF elsewhere in a series of deadly attacks across Deir Ezzor, Hasakah, and Raqqa provinces. In total during the month of January, the SDF suffered at least 5 casualties in a string of seven armed attacks and five IED strikes against their units (1.1-24.1).
- Anti-regime attacks: Regime forces also continue to be targeted by the ongoing radical insurgency across northeast Syria, suffering three armed attacks and one IED blast that killed a total of at least seven soldiers across Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces (1.1-22.1). ISIS elements also launched a major coordinated attack against checkpoints controlled by the Assad regime and affiliated militias in the Rusafa desert, south of Raqqa, that coincided with air raids by Russian warplanes targeting the area (22.1).
- Post-battle Hasakah operations: Following the recapture of the al-Sina’a prison, the SDF carried out a massive search and arrest campaign in the Ghweran neighborhood of Hasakah to verify the identities of all the males present in the area (25.1). The SDF also detained the majority of the forcibly conscripted “Self-Defense” units employed in the protection of al-Sina’a, who reportedly fled their posts in the first hours of the attack (28.1). A number of Self-Defense elements remain unaccounted for.
- PYDK abduction: A member of the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYDK) was kidnapped and tortured outside the city of Hasakah by members of the PKK-linked Revolutionary Youth Organization, amidst an ongoing feud between both groups that began last month (20.1).
- Protesters shot: The SDF shot and wounded five civilians in the village of al-Suwaydiya, during a protest against difficult living conditions in the area (9.1). The SDF later moved reinforcements into the area and launched a series of arrests in the village, prompting subsequent protests against authorities in the city of Tabqa (11.1).
- Russian patrol halted: The SDF blocked a Russian patrol, preventing it from passing near the city of al-Malikiyah, northeast of Hasakah (4.1).
- Anti-ISIS raids: The SDF launched a campaign of arrests in the villages of Khirbet Elias and al-Tawaina, northwest of Hasakah, in search of individuals charged with belonging to ISIS sleeper cells (22.1).
Russian & Pro-Regime Activity
- US patrol blocked: The regime and allied groups have continued to show increasingly combative behavior against American military patrols in northeast Syria. Regime army checkpoints intercepted and prevented the passage of two American military patrols through the villages of al-Salihiyah in the Qamishli countryside and Qabur al-Gharajneh in the Tal Tamr countryside, north of Hasakah (2.1, 8.1).
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Lockdown: The SDF imposed a total lockdown across its areas of control in Deir Ezzor (27.1-1.2) as part of its efforts to capture fugitives escaping from the al-Sina’a prison in Hasakah (27.1).
- Anti-regime protests: Demonstrations erupted in the city of Raqqa against a reconciliation project promoted by the Assad regime in the town of al-Sabkha (16.1).
- Anti-SDF protests: Farmers and sheep breeders protested against the Self-Administration, demanding fodder for livestock and the improvement of living conditions in the town of Muhaimidah, west of Deir Ezzor (13.1).
- Foreign ISIS prisoners: In the latest repatriation developments, around 100 Iraqi families were transferred from the al-Hol camp to the Jadah camp in Iraq (4.1). The Self-Administration also began establishing a third sector in the Roj camp, in the Malikiyah countryside, to transfer of a group of foreign women who have been detained for the last three years in al-Hol camp (7.1).
- Al-Hol developments: Extreme levels of violence continue to plague the al-Hol camp, with the month of January witnessing the murders of five camp residents and the serious injury of another at the hands of suspected ISIS sympathizers (1.1-26.1). A Red Crescent employee was also shot dead by unknown persons in the camp, while three other medical workers were injured in a string of attacks by residents. Humanitarian conditions remained dire as well, with two children dying amidst plunging temperatures and limited health care capacity at al-Hol (1.1, 20.1). A fire also broke out in the camp’s third section, destroying a number of tents but resulting in no injuries (14.1). Finally, a batch of 53 families from Deir Ezzor province were permitted to leave al-Hol and return to their homes (16.1).
- Al-Hol security operations: The SDF arrested three people during a raid campaign across several sectors of the camp (12.1). As fighting broke out at the Sina’a prison in Hasakah, the SDF also dramatically tightened security protocols around al-Hol, establishing a cordon around the area, and imposing an indefinite curfew in the camp covering the hours of 16:00 to 7:00 (23.1).
- Coronavirus: Deaths from the novel coronavirus continued to decline across northeast Syria in December (2.1-29.1). The Self Administration recorded 6,746 new cases and 87 deaths in the areas under its control.