• The Islamic State attacked a prison in the night from Thursday to Friday in Syria in order to free jihadists.

  • A complex military operation which reminds us that the Islamic group is far from over.

  • For Jonathan Piron, specialist in the Middle East, Europe must firmly grasp the issue of prisoners from its countries.

The Islamic State launched an assault overnight from Thursday to Friday against a prison controlled by Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

If 39 jihadists were killed in the operation, "a number of prisoners managed to escape", deplores the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), without specifying how many precisely.

An attack that recalls the resurgence of Daesh in the region, but also the thorny case of jihadist prisoners.

Jonathan Piron, political scientist specializing in the Middle East, evokes for

20 Minutes

a "naivety of the West" in the face of an organization which has certainly lost its territorial hold but not its capacity for nuisance.

Is the Islamic State back in Syria?

The West thought it was done with the problem of Daesh following the territorial collapse of the Islamic State and the arrest of many jihadists by Kurdish fighters. In reality, the Islamic State was defeated territorially, but an entire organization remained in place, with many fighters still available. We can summarize by saying that the Islamic State is weakened but far from being defeated.

Especially since the Kurdish forces, to whom the Westerners have delegated all the management and monitoring of Daesh prisoners, do not have the capacity to do so, and do not have priority.

Their political agenda is turned towards Turkey, which is increasingly hostile and which puts the Kurds in difficulty.

The Kurds have also already agreed to release jihadist prisoners for ransom from Daesh.

Prisons are porous.

Does this situation raise the question of the repatriation of jihadists by Europeans?

In Europe, the question of repatriation mainly concerns the wives and children of jihadists, and is already raising many controversies. Addressing the repatriation of male prisoners would go down very badly in public opinion. Yet there is a real risk of leaving them prisoners there and escaping to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria. Nor can we ignore the risk that they will return to Europe to carry out attacks.

The situation is all the more explosive as the prisoners are crammed into very harsh conditions, increasing their feelings and their radicalism, without the slightest policy of de-radicalization being carried out.

The detainees are all mixed, which makes these prisons true universities of jihad.

There were similar conditions of imprisonment in Iraq ten years ago, and once the prisoners were released, they knew how to structure themselves much more easily thanks to this common prison past.

The situation is even worse in Syria in 2022 because the number of detainees is much higher.

Has the West tended to underestimate the situation?

The West concentrated on other areas, such as Mali or Afghanistan, decentering Syria and Iraq, because it was considered that the problem was settled, out of hope or naivety.

Admittedly, the Islamic State has less means than when it was at the top, but it still has a well-established structure, dormant cells and a long experience.

The attack on the prison on Thursday shows it: there were explosive vehicles sent from outside and a coordinated internal mutiny, proof of the know-how and capacities of the Islamic State.

The West let the situation rot, giving Daesh time to revitalize itself.

Should Europe look again at the Islamic State?

It will have to be admitted that the worst would be to let these European jihadist prisoners go free and disappear from the radar.

Europe must have a coordinated and concerted policy on the follow-up of its jihadist fighters, and on the stabilization of the region.

Each European chancellery is progressing for the moment in a unique way, but not all of them have the logistical means and the capacity to repatriate their combatants, or even to ensure their follow-up there.

Syria remains a theater of tension, enough to make the situation worse…

We remain in a sequence of brutalization led by the Assad regime, the iron fist applies again on the country, even if the civil war is almost extinguished and that Assad has regained control of a large part of Syria, no situation is resolved for the moment in the medium and long term.

The north is still a combat zone, there is the increasingly strong involvement of Russia and Iran in the country, tensions with Turkey... The reasons for destabilization are still very present, both in regional areas but also in the country as a whole.

And we know that instability is a breeding ground for jihadism.


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  • Jihadism

  • World

  • Terrorism

  • Daesh

  • Prisoners

  • Syria

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