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Breaking the Walls: The Threat of ISIS Resurgence and the Repercussions on Social Media & in the Syrian ISIS Women’s Camps of the Recent ISIS Attack on al Sina Prison

Mona Thakkar & Anne Speckhard

Syria’s North Eastern province  of Al Hasakah where ten thousand alleged ISIS members have been imprisoned has witnessed disturbing developments in the past month. On Jan 20, around 100 ISIS members employing suicide vests and car bombs overran the al Sina prison in southern Hasakah which housed thousands of the ISIS militants.  The attack, following ISIS’s long-held strategy of “Breaking the Walls” to attack prisons in order to free like-minded jihadists and revive their ranks, as was carried out by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in July, 2013,  was intended to free their  incarcerated comrades. It involved using a bomb-filled truck in a suicide mission and was also the second such plot, an identical first one had been thwarted weeks before, meaning ISIS had multiple vectors and cells for carrying out this attack and it was a crucial effort for them.

To sow chaos during the attack,  the inmates who had prior knowledge of these attacks, instigated timely prison riots, killing guards, taking the young boys held in another part of the complex hostage and later storming out of the prisons. This brazen prison assault, seen as the most sophisticated complex attack launched by the group in the past three years, raged a bloody 9 day battle between the ISIS sleeper cells and the Kurdish led Syrian democratic forces also drawing in the US-air coalition that carried out initial airstrikes in support of their local allies.  On  30 January, by the time the operation ended, a great deal of damage had already been done alongside the valiant deaths of 140 SDF forces and prison guards and dozens of ISIS members killed. Scores of ISIS prisoners which may be in the hundreds escaped, amongst them 20 high profile ISIS militants, who are reportedly being smuggled into the central Syrian desert, the safe haven of the ISIS insurgency.  Followed by which, the SDF  administration has revamped  its security and surveillance architecture and has undertaken aggressive combing operations across Al Hasakah  to hunt down escaped ISIS fugitives and has launched rigorous military operations and   major search raids in the neighbourhood provinces  in of Deir Ezzor and Raqa that led to the arrest of a  major ISIS  financier who was responsible for transferring money in Al Hol camp to ISIS sleeper cells. 

While all these events have gained enough media traction, what has been paid less attention was how the SDF administration highly alarmed by this prison break overhauled  its security vigilance in the camps, particularly Al-hol and undertook  various security crackdowns  for the fear of further infiltration  of ISIS cells inside the camps that can again trigger a cycle of dangerous killings,  also raising the  dangerous prospect of further escapes of the ISIS women who ostensibly came in contact with  the escaped ISIS militants and prisoners.  The monitoring of  social media discourse from inside the camps reveals how the SDF  embraced a tight security regime that they hadn’t implemented in the recent years  to further stall any further violence. AS a consequence ISIS-linked women from the camps in Al hol started reflecting  the  impact of the tightened security measures. They  reported via social media increased search raids accusing the guards of stealing their valuable belongings , sweeping investigations in the tents, closure of markets, added fortifications and additional troop deployment coupled with the prohibition of entry and exit to everyone except the medical workers.

Thus we see now in monitoring social media from the camps that the recent  notorious ISIS attack has changed the security dynamics in the camps and that the recent crowdfunding efforts have shifted their focus to openly rallying for freeing the prisoners including men, women and children. This article aims to open a window to the social media discourse of ISIS adherents and discuss the repercussions it may have for the region. 

Images shared by pro ISIS supporters from the camp to amplify the short term victories of the ISIS attack on the Al Ghweiran Prison. The third image circulated widely reflects the hopes of their “freedom” as they desperate await oISIS’s fighters advance towards the camps. Source: Telegram ( Jan 2022)

Social Media Updates from the Camps

While one can never be certain one is observing posts from inside the camp, those who observe such postings get to know the “signature” of many posters.  Yet this study takes on face value that women who claim to be inside the camps actually are.  To follow ICSVE’s ethics on internet research the first author, who collected this data did not question the women and records only publicly posted comments after removing all identifying information.  Below is a compilation of some of those posts.

In regard to a recent claimed statement that niqabs, which make it impossible for the Kurds to know who has done what, are no longer being tolerated in the camps, a Russian woman from Al hol wrote “Recently, namely, starting from the 20th of January, after the fights for freedom between the Kurds and the prisoners of the Guveyran prison in Hasakah began, we are also not calm!!! Kurdish najas [ritually unclean], not only forced us to take off our niqabs, they delivered an ultimatum”If you want to get to the market, or to the hospital, take off your niqabs.”  – this is the plan. So ever since then, every night, and sometimes even during the day, they just calmly do not let you get the phone – they go around, snooping around. There were even cases when men entered the tent at night, when the sisters were sleeping, Subhanallah 1, waking up, they found their eyes on themselves .. They also began to take money and gold jewellery.  May Allah protect us all from their evil Allah1u Akbar, ‍Yesterday, a pickup truck was also seen, which drove into their office, in the back was full of weapons ..And just a couple of hours ago, they said that there would be a big raid.  

The updates about the evolving  on ground developments were also circulated by admins of the various ISIS linked  online crowdfunding networks on social media. They  initiated an awareness campaign about the deteriorating security conditions in the camps to mobilise more support and raise funds for the daily sustenance of these women. One admin on the Russian telegram group asked the Muslims to make dua (prayer) for women and showed how the “sisters” were so resilient and patient  not complaining about the difficult living conditions they live in, but instead worried about the  condition and well being ISIS fighters, their brothers, when they were valiantly  fighting against the ” Kurdish dogs”.  He writes, Do not forget to make dua for the children and sisters who are already 9 days without a market.  These dogs cordoned off everything and did not allow anyone to call in, except for the cleaners and bread (Syrian).  Do not forget to make dua so that Allah will ease this situation for them. The sisters themselves do not complain, just the children of subhanallah are worried about the situation of the brothers”

Source: Telegram  (Jan 2022)

As the Defeat ISIS Coalition continues to work together to control the situation, Apache helicopters hover  over the camps to monitor suspicious activities and the Kurdish internal security forces began digging earth mounds as an added layer of defence  and closing the main gates of the camp to stall any escapes. Panic and fear engulfed the tents and the group chats of the women  started teeming with messages of warnings about the raids and investigations that were carried in the  tents to further inform and alert other women so that they could hide their prized possessions and belongings, the most important being their mobile phones which are the only source of communication and entertainment with the outside-for the possession of which women could land up in prisons.  The social media landscape from Al Hol  with the photos of newly imposed barriers, newly installed security cameras,  distressed scenes of people scrambling to escape from the accidental fires, closure of markets-that has now led to the increase in the supply of food prices alluding to how their living conditions have debilitated following the  battle between the ISIS and the Kurdish fighters at Ghweiran. 

Source: Telegram 

In the sea of the opinions of hundreds of women in the camp, the social media landscape in channels where ISIS women in the camps tend to post is dominated by the voices of those who vociferously continue to be loyal and offer moral support to the group when the “mujahideen” were embroiled in the skirmishes with the SDF following the  ISIS laid siege of the Ghweiran  prison  With the ISIS militants  having an upper hand in the initial days  of battle when they held minors hostage inside the prison, the stream of  various congratulatory messages with the hashtag #Ghewiranbreakingtheprisonwalls started pouring  from different corners of the world stretching from India to Netherlands on the ISIS “ansar” channels, out of which many were ostensibly from Al-hol camp posted in order to glorify  ISIS’s prison assault. A written message in calligraphic font written discreetly from the tents of Al hol “read “From Al-Hol camp, we congratulate our brothers who  were released from Ghweran prison. We are waiting for you!” An  ISIS  adherent using an ISIS kunya on her Facebook profile desperate for her release through her post turned hopeful that  after Ghweiran, the next destination for  ISIS fighters is Al hol alluding  that the militants would next  overrun the Al-hol detention centre “The boom sounds faint, the area is Sham  and the sound echoes between AL HawL and Sijn Ghuwiron, a distance of 60 km or an hour’s journey Bi’idznillaah [by the Glory of Allah’s religion,] Next [destination]Alhol AL HawL- Help the Mujahideen with Your Best Prayers Ya Ikhwah Fillah [Oh Brothers in Allah].  

The communication wasn’t just from one side. Many ISIS prisoners during the clashes with the SDF forces as  substantiated by the  claims of  women from the camps  show that they were able to establish  communication with them back within their camps.   Updating them about their condition in the prisons, the ISIS fighters holding out in the prison acknowledged  that there were scores of wounded militants who needed urgent medical attention and also insisted that they ( the women) need to be “prepared” because  fighters who were able to escape to raise the banner of the black ISIS flag could soon storm Alhol camp to free them as well. ” According to ICSVE interviews in al Hol, al Roj and the now closed Ain Issa camps, this has been the horrific fear of those women who no longer support ISIS–that their fighters could come reclaim them from the camps, against their will.  But for the ISIS-diehards, it’s what they’ve been wishing for and preaching about for their months and years of captivity.  A Turkish brother who managed to escape contacted his mother, to tell there was bombardment and armed attacks and also told how the male ISIS prisoners escaped from building to building.  Another message from the female camps talked about the men contacting from inside the siege. It reads, “Many brothers have called their wives, the situation is difficult, some have not eaten for ten days. Everyone here accepts good news, also we were told be prepared maybe our camp will be stormed too and to stick in our tents in case of shootings” The escaped ISIS men also instructed their relatives back in the camps  to steer clear of participating  in the pro-ISIS demonstrations in which  chanting “Takhbhir, Allahu Akbar” [Let’s say Allah is the Greatest!] as this would bring them under the immediate radar of Asayish ( internal security forces) that would inhibit  their further mutual communication.  For the ” steadfastness” of the “mujahideen”,  that in their eyes could pave the victory over “infidels,” the ISIS fighters from inside the prison circulated instructions for their wives  “to fast for 3 days in a row, do a lot of tauba [repentance], “and ask Allah to hide them from the damned kuffar [unbelievers].” This reflects their belief that fasting alongside praying would reinvigorate the fighting spirit of these fighters and yield greater chances of their win over “kuffars”. 

While, some pro-Islamic state  women were flirting with the elusive idea of their husbands freeing them from prisons, some  also  realised that if   ISIS militants  in such debilitating security conditions would mount any attack or infiltrate the detention camp, there lingers  a pervading  threat of them   getting caught  after escaping from the camps.  They claimed that the  strategy of extricating them from the camps  could prove detrimental  at a time, when even  the  freed  ISIS  militants  in the prevailing  hostile security  condition would be clambering to find safe havens in Al Hasakah and neighbouring provinces where the SDF has been on high alert  undertaking sweeping combing operations against the ISIS sleeper cells. On the other hand in Al Roj, some women dressed their kids as” mujahideen” posing with knives to  jubilantly celebrate the ISIS attack on the Al Sina Prison proving their loyalty for the group. While ISIS-related social media was replete with  solidarity congratulatory messages for the ISIS fighters who overran the Al Sina prison other discussions revolved  around  advising  the sisters as ISIS also did in the past,  not to consume the news from the “kufr media” which they claim are only rumours and lies, and discussing which prisoners might have made their way out and  anticipating death of Kurdish led SDF fighters by the increasing Turkish backed SNA attacks and drone attacks from Turkey inside SDF held territories. The rumours that were being peddled included that  Al Salama- (who was the Al Baraka Wali and the security chief  of Al Shadadi district in Al Hasakah before the fall of ISIS had been able to escape from the prison.  Al Salama is an important figure in that he headed sleeper cells after the territorial defeat of ISIS to carry out attacks in Rojava and facilitated the process of transferring ISIS militants from Deir Ezzor  to Turkey and also oversaw  IS weapon smuggling and financial operations) from the chaos of ensuing clashes. If true, the escape of such high ranking IS members who are familiar with the local terrain would certainly add fuel to the group’s resurgence. 

Discussions between the prisoners/escaped fighters with women in camps ( Jan 2022)

Children imitating ISIS fighters are seen holding plastic weapons as they are dressed up by their captive mothers in “attire mujahideen [ISIS combat clothes]”. Children are also photographed swearing baya, or loyalty oaths,  in the camp tents. Both pictures were uploaded between 26-28 Jan while the Al Sina prison was besieged by the ISIS fighters. Congratulatory messages pouring from Al hol camp.

Source: Telegram and Facebook ( Jan 2022) 

Facebook: February 2022

A woman contemplating the  far fetched possibility of the aftermath of her escape from the camp.  Source: Facebook profile ( Feb 2022)

The discussions are a testament that validate the claims of  constant communication between the ISIS prisoners and the fugitives with their families back in the detention facilities of Al hol and other camps in which they were updating  their relatives  in camps about the onground developments.  The  coordinated prison assault attack  with the incarcerated members also is a testament of the determination of ISIS to repeat its “Breaking the Walls” campaign that worked so well for them when they were still AQI in Iraq.  It is also a testament to the grave intelligence and surveillance failure and long standing  loopholes that the SDF security apparatus, facing threats from all sides, reels from while overseeing these detention facilities.  Their lack is largely owing to a lack of infrastructural support from the international community in overseeing these facilities, many countries who have also repetitively refused to repatriate IS fighters and their family members,  leaving the SDF and AANES government to fend for themselves to secure these detention centres.  Thus as the monitoring of social media discourse of the  women from the camps credence to the argument and reinforces suspicions that  phones were being smuggled in the highly fortified into the Al Sina detention centre and the incarcerated fighters had access to communication devices through usually underpaid  prison guards who might have  allowed the prison inmates to use their phones in exchange for bribes.  This same dynamic can be seen for the women in the camps in even larger proportions.   Smuggling of  cell phones through employees and shop owners is also a prevalent problem in the camps  and as per the accounts of  European women from Al Roj  in some cases, guards facilitate the smuggling of phones inside the camp and the financial differentials are so strong that some Kurdish guards even  facilitate purchase of  smart phones for  well financed ISIS women who get new ones for themselves and  later resell their old smartphones at cheap rates to those in need in the camps.  While the use of phones for the foreigner annex in Al hol  is strictly forbidden, women from other sections of the camp could also purchase phones on their behalf and hand them over to foreign women staying in this most threatening part of the camp in exchange for a commission.  Anti-ISIS women also rely on these smuggled in and illegal phones as lifelines back to family and friends. One anti-ISIS woman openly talked about  how buying a phone  is a costly affair as it costs a whopping $500 dollars. “The phones were less expensive. I bought this one for 150$ Now for this price you can have a very old phone with many problems  .They bring in new phones for 400 to 500$. So it’s more risky for the ones that bring things in and they ( those who bring in) also take advantage of the situation we are in, we have no other choice”

Source: Telegram ( March 2022)

Source: Facebook 

Apart from the smuggling of phones, renewed efforts have been diverted to freeing many women, ISIS prisoners from the camps in the past 5 months. But what has been extraordinary is the recurrent  aggressive PR campaigns of smuggling young children from Al hol.   As the rumours  engulf the camp about the SDF administration doubling down on  admitting the children, who have been exposed to the ideological indoctrination, into various deradicalization and rehabilitation programmes in centres far away from the camp, the fears of mothers regarding separation from their children, has triggered  panic and anxiety  amongst the pro Islamic State  women who then write to the various administrators of the fundraising  campaigns  to raise money for facilitating the exit of these children from the camps.  Up to now, male children over 11 or 12 have been taken from their mothers in the camps and cycled through rehabilitation centres in Qamishlo, spending some of their time imprisoned apart from, but in the same complex, as the  al Hasakah adult male prisons. Some of these were the boys held hostage during the siege by ISIS fighters. The future for such boys is dire. Due to few options, given their home countries won’t repatriate them, these boys who may be totally innocent, are moved when they turn 18 from youth facilities to the adult male ISIS population.  Thus their mothers who will be separated from them in either case wanting better for them, if pro-ISIS, turn to ISIS for help.

In many cases, the social media discourse indicated that the frantic  appeals made  by the pro-Islamic State women for freeing their children who in the case of pro-ISIS mothers have  exhibited violent behaviour towards aid workers, doctors and  are under the constant radar of the SDF as the camp officials see these children of pro ISIS wives as being the most vulnerable to radicalization due to their mothers’ indoctrination.  Apart from the children of pro-ISIS women being  predisposed towards violence due to their mother’s encouragement, Russian women from Al hol also claim that the camp guards hunt for these teenage boys because of their brawny and large physiques.  When a  woman sympathetic to ISIS on her Facebook pleaded for help for  the release of  her teenage son from the camp, many other women vented out their frustrations by berating the actions of these youth who under the influence of their pro-ISIS  mothers not only hurl stones  at other  women and their children in the camps spreading panic, but  also hurt other humanitarian  workers, doctors  due to which, they claim that many aid organisations fearing for their safety have withdrawn their aid services from the camp residents. Indeed, in light of  ISIS’s repetitive  targeting of medical workers and the threat from indoctrinated  teenage boys, this has set a dangerous precedent for humanitarian organisations. Answering back to the plea made by the pro ISIS women for help, another  Russian camp resident acrimoniously writes ” Who is to be blamed for the fact that these dogs are chasing your son. Yes, I also have a son Alhamdulilah. And I am raising him. And my son does not throw stones at his sisters, It is these big boys of yours that do not give us rest, In what they only press us before the kafirs.   Another woman adds  “They, (the  SDF)Surrounded the market, drove two machines with machine guns, and stupid children, stupid mothers throw stones at them, provoking them. Then they will howl on the whole Internet that their children were killed by ladies also, а group of stunned Daesh women  beat our sister by stealing money from her, beaten up for seeing her get help from Kafirs, transferring for sisters.”

An online brawl  erupted between the  ISIS women  in Al Hol camp over  the issue of children’s violent behaviour towards other camp residents and aid workers. Source: Facebook ( October- November 2021)

( continued, the woman blames the  notorious action of the teenage boys who spread chaos by targeting the people in the camps with stones and other sharp objects claiming that they are “uneducated and cowards” 

It is in this context, where countries refuse to repatriate minors, that the  ISIS-linked Russian crowdfunding campaigns are rallying  to speedily raise money for smuggling  adolescents from Al hol  ostensibly to protect them from ultimately being imprisoned with the adult ISIS men, but likely from the point of view of ISIS they will be used to replenish  ISIS’s  dwindling ranks and decreasing manpower. At least some of these escaped children  are indoctrinated and prepared for rigorous combat training  to later fight for the black banner of ISIS in the Syrian ( Al Badia) deserts.  Traditionally such pleas for financing the escapes of children of ISIS militants used to only surface  on closed private forums, but that has now changed with many donation advertisements aimed at releasing  children now making their way to open public forums and public telegram channels.  In the first recent appeal of February,  two Russian linked ISIS channels predominantly catered for crowdfunding these escapes,  have been aggressively pushing for raising the ransom money of $11,000 for a 17-year-old Russian  teenage boy who  owing to his muscular build and ostensible activities of violence has been under constant supervision of  the camp’s security apparatus and also been “imprisoned” as claimed by these  pro-ISIS Russian channels.  The emotive  requests for freeing these teenage boys usually  employs a manipulate narrative of how the prolonged stay of the teenage boys in the camp may expose them to the  Asaysh’a torture in jails or in worst cases they may also get killed by the SDF  as an act of retribution  against the terror group. While these claims are propaganda, it’s true the children will ultimately end up in adult prisons as they age into it, which is a ghastly treatment of minors who were taken to ISIS with no fault of their own. 

On the pro-ISIS Russian channel a message appeared  “Brothers and sisters, a sister from the Al-Hol camp turned to us today. She has a son, 17 years old. The situation is very difficult, because you always have to hide him from the damned Kurds, otherwise he will be taken to prison.  There is an opportunity to pick him up from there, but for this you need $ 11,000, everyone who reads it will think that Ogoo!  Such an amount, but know that everything is easy for Allah, the most important thing is to take reason and trust in Allah properly.  We opened a collection for this, let’s help him get out of there so that he does not fall into the hands of these Kurdish dogs. .  Let’s be the cause of his leaving the camp, because Allah helps those who help their brother when they are in trouble”.  It remains unclear whether the funds are being raised for an Iraqi/Syrian child or child of an ISIS foreign fighter but as it is widely known that the rates for smuggling foreign ISIS women and their children are much higher than that of arranging the escape money for Syrian women and youth and Syrians are routinely released back into Syria if they are deemed deradicalized. The rate of $11,000 suggests that the collected money will go for freeing a child of a foreign ISIS fighter with the other factors such as age, destination, smuggling method determining the final rate. ( The cheapest rate involves no mode of transport,  followed by making their way out in water, food tanks, garbage trucks, or by brokering with the  leaders in upper echelons of administration). The stream of money  that  flows into these ISIS-linked Qiwi wallets is currently  at a snail’s pace but,  there have been  some generous donors  who have sometimes” generously” transferred $300- $500 expediting the “revenue collection” efforts. 

Facebook: November 2021 (Note the Telegram channel no longer exists).

Source: Russian  ISIS linked  online crowdfunding platform on telegram requesting the channel subscribers for aiding the escape of the teenage boy. ( March 2022)

The aggressive call for amplifying financial support for such ransom pleas to release ISIS youth involves a daily updating of the collection of the “ransom  fees” on their Telegram pages  and arbitrarily citing Quranic quotes regarding the obligation of releasing the prisoners from captivity ( as shown in the above image) to keep up the momentum of cash flows. The children featured on the videos covering their faces, themselves requesting supporters to free them from these camps has even greater potential of garnering more sympathy and potentially more funds from ISIS supporters.  The  children having been indoctrinated with their mothers’ toxic ideology and religious fervour are brainwashed into believing that if they are returned to their home countries they will be prevented  from practicing  true Islam and that they have to today live without their heroic ISIS fighter fathers because  the “kuffars” ruthlessly spilled the blood of their fathers and other Muslims. A message that has been widely circulated  as a direct donation advertisement featuring such children.  “This is the third year we have been in captivity in the camp.  We have become adults, these godless Kurds can take us to their prisons.  So don’t be careless about it, don’t let us grow up under their care and guidance, don’t let them ruin our fitrah [inborn innocence] and make us the same apostates and enemies of Islam as they are!!! We need your dua!”  Paying heed to the security concerns, the administrators later opened a private group for the donations of this plea and it remains unclear as to how much money has been collected for the smuggled escapes of these teenage  boys.  

Apart from buying “educational materials” these IS-linked  Russian channels have also focused on using the collected money to buy Qurans,  and for buying gifts for children who took  part in religious knowledge seeking competitions  and cleared the written and oral  tests that were prepared as a part of their religious curriculum that has been created by the “madrassas” run by the women in the tents in camp Al-Hol to further perpetuate the spread of ISIS’s virulent ideology .

Donation advertisements for the release of two 13 year old teenage boys. Source: Telegram. ( December- Jan 2022)

Here an ISIS linked administrator voices concern over how the the  adolescent children will be transferred by the SDF to ( prison once they turn 18) and accentuates that the need for freeing the most number of children  with the price for smuggling out per child hovering around $5000 to $7000. 

Facebook 

( ISIS linkes Russian channel expresses gratitude to the subscribers of the channel who helped him raise money for ” buying gifts’ ‘ for the small girls who cleared the exams that tested their  religious knowledge( courses on monotheism) in Camp al Hol. 

Apart from targeting the boys who might soon enter the phase of adulthood,  the group also eyes orphans who are taken care of by  pro-Islamic State women, who capitalise on their claims of motherhood to sponsor their daily needs  and escape the camps. The past instances as claimed by women on the German ISIS-linked telegram group also include the smuggling of a group of Uighur teenage boys from the camps and the recent December attempt reported of how their vastly entrenched financial networks and handsome funding helped free a foreign  ISIS woman and an orphaned child. The group actively involved in the human smuggling network  Wilayah Al Khayr  and “Unsere Schwester” which traditionally focused on prioritising the escape of  widows of ISIS fighters  accompanying  their  orphan children within the period of four months was able to raise $15,000 for the release of an  injured orphan and the widow of an ISIS fighter by sharing the news of her release on their telegrams channels. In the name of ‘Wilayat al Khayr’  and Our Sisters’ we wish to announce glad tidings to you,  by the grace of Allah as well as your generosity, another sister and her orphans were released from captivity” These German language ISIS-linked channels in the mid half of last year reportedly  sent monthly transfers of $500  to two Cacuasian  women and their children in Turkey who had been smuggled out of the Al Hol,  along with financially  helping a deported ISIS fighter in Lebanon to pay off his debt that he incurred while  paying of his bail charges.  Another advertisement on this channel included a plea for $2000 to help 5 Arab fighters escape  “who had been betrayed and spied upon.” These two ISIS-linked German channels  collaborating with other channels back in August September 2020 additionally claimed to have generated sufficient capital for the medical  treatment of escaped ISIS children in  Syria and in unison with two other channels “Sisters in Captivity” and “Our Rose” claimed to have arranged a whopping  €10,000 over a period of 5 months  by setting up 3 different paypal accounts for incurring the cost of legal fees charges/ and daily sustenance of the family of  convicted Austrian IS recruiter  and radical  preacher Ebu Tijima  who was sentenced for 20 years in prison by a local criminal court in Austria. The fact that even after their accounts were  flagged multiple times and ultimately blocked by PayPal, after which the donors transferred amount directly into the personal account of ISIS jihadist  Ebu Tijama reflects how skillfully these fundraisers have been able to exploit the loopholes in  the various online payment gateways and their countries’ banking systems. Some fundraisers have also capped the minimum transfer value at €100 if they want to ” contribute” to the “cause of freeing the prisoners.”  Another innovative method of raising funds to attract more supporters has led these German ISIS-linked channels to set up a buy and sell market of  second hand  goods on Telegram with the proceeds generated from this business utilised for financing the monthly expenses of the women in ISIS camps. From watches, hijabs, Qurans, phones, attires for children, religious books to shoes; all are sold at inexpensive prices ranging from $5 to $25 Euros. Thus it has become a sustainable business model for such fundraisers to collaboratively set up new business ventures eg ” Muwahideen [Monotheist] perfumes,  Islamic clothing for children, selling of delicacies” and as they claim that the revenue generation would go for the families of prisoners, their businesses gain more popularity and prominence and lure in more Muslims to buy the products resulting in even more financial resources to support these women prisoners in the camps.

This secondhand goods market set up on a German Telegram channel announces that the proceeds will be used by the IS supporters for the monthly expenses/ release of prisoners. Before the group was deleted, the administrator acknowledged that the revenue went towards supporting the daily needs ” of  sisters” in camps. Source: Telegram ( July 2021-March 2022) 

Announcement by the ISIS linked German Wilayat Al Khayr Channel regarding the release of an orphan child and a widow of ISIS fighter. (  Telegram, December 2021)

Diverse  ISIS affiliated crowdfunding  campaigns in German focused on freeing the women, children and fighters of IS undertaken by Wilayah Al Khayr, Unsere Schwestern and Our Rose in the second half of 2021 starting from August extending till  December.  

Since the beginning of January 2022 online crowdfunding campaigns have gathered steam for collecting “ransom fees” catered  towards freeing male  prisoners and women from the  detention camps in Syria. These fundraisers have also focused on aiding the women to  pay off their  heavy debts they  incurred  while  scrambling to arrange for  financial  assistance to make their way  out of  camps. A very active Islamic State-linked  Russian financial private network “Help the believers”  likewise, oversees soliciting funds for freeing the male prisoners, teenage boys and smuggling of female ISIS loyalists from Al Hol camp. This Russian channel has been able to bank on  their wide social media outreach to gain  enough financial backing   from the supporters  to bankroll  many escapes within the time period of 2 months.  The administrator claimed before the ISIS attack on the Al Hasakah prison they had managed to raise within a period of 1 month  $10,000 out of $20,000  needed for brokering the release of their fatally injured high-ranking Islamic State leader out of the Syrian prisons, a channel which additionally “had helped many sisters by  providing financial support” In a closed telegram group, the organiser of the  fundraiser wrote  “My dear brothers and sisters. After collecting for the ransom of the sisters, we, together with the channel, want to open a collection for the wounded brother. He had a lot of wounds in the path of Allah and he held a great position in our State until he was imprisoned.  The brother was distinguished by his disposition and help to the sisters. But now he is in the same position.  He needs an operation because his leg was broken during the arrest, he is already covered in wounds and he had a lot of operations in the way of Allah.”  It remains unclear whether the ISIS  leader for whose  exit they are negotiating  was detained in Al Ghweiran prison, or in the 30 detention centres in Qamishli, or other prisons under the SDF control,  in the detention facilities  controlled by the Assad regime or in  the Turkish backed SNA territories. But the demand of $20,000 suggests that the  attempts  are being made to release a non-Syrian high-ranking foreign ISIS fighter.  In the month of December the “Help the Believers” channel in tandem with another channel “Help the oppressed sisters in Al Hol” channel claimed to have raised another $3000 for freeing 2 Syrian women from Al hol camps and another $1500 which facilitated the way of an alleged Syrian ISIS fighter out of the prison for which he also wrote a letter thanking his” immigrant brothers”for sponsoring his release. The monitoring of earlier fundraisers highlight that  some of the  fighters  and Syrian women have been bribed out of or smuggled from the prisons and IDP camps in Tel Abyad that are under the control of the Turkish backed Syrian National Army . In the given letter, the ISIS-related Russian channel writes how they  generated funds for the release of an ISIS-linked Syrian woman Umm Dua for $1600 and as a testament of her release purportedly shared the Turkish backed Syrian National Army affiliated military court’s legal papers labelled  that sanctioned  the release of this woman. Such official documents or  agreements substantiate claims that ISIS sympathisers’ money has been utilised  for the release of prisoners and helps the organisers of these fundraising campaigns to prove their credibility to their donors, which in turn eases and smooths the pace of  their money collection. 

Apart from gaining leverage over  a slew of fundraising pages, garnering credibility  also becomes pertinent at a time when the members of the SDF security services work hard to counter them by employing  counter intelligence operations, i.e. by posing as ISIS-linked financial facilitators or smugglers to gather intelligence on those collaborating with or supporting IS and to also thwart escape attempts from the camps as a part of wider strategy  bolstering their information gathering capabilities on terrorist groups.  This can be seen in the wider context of how widely it is known that  Turkey’s hawala transfer systems  has been  evidently used as premier gateway for moving ISIS funds in and out of Syrian camps and the group has also resorted to traditional methods of money transfer via exchange offices and jewellery companies they were  set up in Syria and Turkey. Indeed, one ICSVE interviewee very familiar with ISIS’s use of the hawala system stated that once money arrives into the Turkish hawala system it is basically already accessible throughout Syria as well.  The recent  MASAK report (the body attached to the  the Turkey Financial Ministry) divulged how the ISIS collaborator  in Turkey who acquired Turkish citizenship,  through their various companies registered as businesses dealing in construction and industrial supplies had  facilitated  the transfer of equipment required to make drones and improvised explosive devices to top ISIS leaders in Syria. Even an alleged  ISIS supporter/ media operative who is based in Idlib active on social media hinted at how it easy to bribe the Turkish backed SNA faction leaders for as little as $100 dollars to allow the release of ISIS leaders/ or let them move through their territory referring that the territories under their control could act as safe refuge for them than Idlib. 

Here the channel shared an acknowledgment letter thanking the supporters for raising $1300 and confirming its use for the release of a Syrian ISIS-related individual. 

Source:  Facebook Profile of a purportedly ISIS-linked media supporter.

Here are the documents from the military court of the Turkish backed SNA administration in Tel Abyad confirming the release of ISIS-linked Syrian woman.  ( July 2021) Telegram 

A letter showing gratitude to immigrant ISIS supporters who donated $1600 for the release of the Syrian woman. 

Picture 1: A freed ISIS fighters writes a letter thanking the immigrant supporters of IS

Picture 2: The administrator acknowledges that the fundraiser is for an injured high profile IS fighter who had helped many women from the camp. ( telegram) 

Picture 3: The administrator of the IS-linked Telegram channel shares a plea for paying off the debt of $1800 of an escaped woman from Al hol.  ( Jan- Feb 2022) Telegram

Another network run by an immigrant German woman living in Idlib and working in coordination with other German crowdfunding pages claimed in February that they had successfully raised  around $10,000 within a month through the secure payment gateways of Western Union and RIA money transfer to “negotiate” the price for the release of another  wounded ISIS fighter ostensibly from SDF administered prisons. The target audience for this channel are European IS sympathisers.  She reflected on an example of how this was possible under the reconciliation scheme in which the channel claims the SDF administration  had previously  released a local Syrian ISIS fighter in exchange for $8000 dollars who was also obliged to sign a declaration form promising not to join any terrorist organization and to leave the SDF controlled territory of north eastern Syria. Indeed, she is correct that Syrian ISIS members are released by the SDF and AANES government if they are deemed deradicalized and not to have blood on their hands, but officially at least, no money exchanges hands for these releases.

However, as per the declaration form given bearing the YPG insignia, found on Telegram, the inmates are expected to pay a fee to the public finance department in return for their release. A Guardian report corroborates this claim as the report  states that two “former” Islamic State fighters have been freed through such arrangements in 2020 without trials and as per the claim of 2 former ISIS  fighters, 10  other prisoners were able to exit the  Al Hasakah prison in this way since  reconciliation scheme was implemented in 2019.  If this is true,  in the case of IS fighters accused of committing acts of brutal killings, they get an opportunity to  walk free with impunity to later pose an unprecedented security threat to the locals in the region. However AANES officials have assured ICSVE researchers that only those judged not to have blood on their hands are ever released. 

In this context, the German  ISIS-linked woman posted how the prisoners are freed by negotiating with the authorities.   Because our brothers fight these dogs , and of course no prison will officially release them except only for money for black work that takes place under the table. How do you think brothers get free here , like sisters from the camps free themselves?  Not With the help of Muslims wrote one of the admins on the group chat.  She further writes ” We said that if the brother is released, they should let us know, and if it is possible, a Dalil or other  documents will be sent. The money just got here a few days ago.  Inshallah Sabar ” As the research showed,  immigrant ISIS loyalists in Syria are the ones who steer/ drive  donation efforts for freeing the IS prisoners alongside sympathisers in their home countries and communicating in the home language draws in more immigrant and overseas donations. 

Picture 1:The reconciliation form bearing YPG insignia that allows for the release of the ISIS prisoner in return for his promise of not joining IS ( March 2022)

Picture 2: The  female ISIS financial facilitator  says that they managed to raise a  $10,000  fee in a month ( February 2022) Telegram for negotiating the release of the wounded ISIS fighters. 

Touching on the highly contentious debate about whether financial support is only provided to the ISIS loyalists in the camp, and about the aspect of commissions to be paid  for the money flowing into the Al Hol,  the administrator of a  fundraising channel that caters to raising money for the daily expenses of women in al Hol stated, “We help everyone who asks for.  They know, of course, since this money is sent inside the camp, and who gets the profit from it?  Think for yourself.  There are also many swindlers who, at the expense of other people’s troubles, make fees for themselves, I also met a lot of scammers, so we try to do everything transparently, and for 3 years Alhamdulillah [Praise Allah] have not let anyone down, we make reports, and we write who received how much. Countering this claim, a Russian woman disillusioned with ISIS says this is not the case. She commented that “I have not received help through my channel for a long time.  I work here, I cook food for sale, that’s how I make a living. I don’t get help from anyone here.  I began to study the religion of Islam and realized that this state [ISIS] was not Islamic at all.  I don’t keep in touch with relatives.  Hence I feel  some of these organisations only help those who support ISIS.  Some women loyal to IS claim how the donors shouldn’t support the “Hazimis’ ‘ i.e. extremist women ( takfiris) in the camp who disrespect “Amir Al Mumimeen” and ask those willing to donate to” do better research” . Hazimis ( or takfiris)  is a tag for those group of women in the camps  who are more radical than ISIS in their ideological interpretation and, who excommunicate every Muslim ( even then ISIS leader  Abu Bakar Al Bhagdadi),  who doesn’t adhere to their strict and often austere interpretations of Quranic  texts. In the words of one woman from camp Al Roj, “They consider ISIS as disbelievers because the most extreme are saying that ISIS isn’t right in considering people being or not being muslims. For the most extreme people, if you don’t consider someone being a disbeliever while (for them) he is, then they consider you also disbelievers. I got into ideological arguments many times with many women but some don’t want to open their eyes.. So I stopped having arguments with people.” Here an ISIS loyalist from  Al Hol warns/cautions supporters to refrain from financially supporting the takfir women in the camp calling herself as the “(sister of aqeedah)i.e the women who are ideologically pure and are true believers. This reflects a long standing conflict inside ISIS about how far one can go in terms of takfir inside the organization. 

Another narrative that is dominant in the messaging of these fundraising pleas  is the narrative of victimhood. This strikes resonance with all supporters and donors  as the women often live in the squalid camps without any finanical or moral cushion from their families and are surrounded by who they refer to as the kufar Kurds (unbelievers) left to fend for their daily survival with their children often reeling from diseases. They are often portrayed as weak, defenseless, oppressed looking out to these supporters as their only ray of financial  hope for themselves and their children. 

Further as these IS-linked fundraising networks have evaded the scrutiny of banking systems and intelligence agencies by mastering  the art of slipping through these security cracks to deliver financial assistance for these women, it is difficult to determine whether the delivered money is catered towards only looking after their daily needs, or for weapons purchases or raising smuggling capital. Tracing the trail of money  becomes a tall task for intelligence agencies as money is channelled across diverse and informal networks spread across the globe and accepted through highly secured anonymous complex payment systems ( use of crypto currencies ie anonymous  Bitcoin transfers, anonymous transfers through Qiwi Wallet terminals, Direct Money transfers through Western Union and hawala and money service businesses to circumvent the formal banking sector, all of which mutates into cash smuggling finally arriving  at the last destination in the camps. The crowdfunding platforms like PayPal have also been used to raise funds that are wired to recipients through private bank accounts and transported in cash into Syria via Turkey. This triggers a rather opaque convoluted  financial ecosystem where the lines between legitimate charitable giving and sponsoring terrorism get blurred, complicating the counter terrorism efforts to hold these individuals to account who bankroll the notorious activities and operations of ISIS. Many surreptitious means are advised by these channels. For example, the Russian fundraising  campaign asks the donors to pay above $1000 rubles to avoid multiple transfers as the repetitive transfers in wallets might bring them under the watchful eye of the law enforcement authorities possibly leading to their imprisonment. Other fundraisers from Europe only accept donations above €100. Tajik channels repeatedly post security awareness tips asking the donors to hide their faces while going to Qiwi terminals to avoid their movements being  captured by the security cameras and strongly instruct the followers to burn the given number in which they were asked to transfer the money. The  supporters and those who are willing to send money to the camps for women are asked to exercise caution  by the organizers of these fundraising pages. The organizers of these fund raising  campaigns claim that  many supporters they know have been looted  as over a period of time  they have been transferring money to the swindlers who pretend of raising funds on the behalf of the IS.  

Diversifying funding sources for obfuscating illicit funding. ( Telegram,  February 2022)

Russian channels ask for donations through  anonymous varied payment methods, the most popular one being the electronic Qiwi wallet system as with just a few swipes it allows the IS  supporters to transfer funds anonymously. ISIS linked Tajik channels also exhort the followers on their channels to use qiwi wallets for making anonymous donations. 

1)Glossy advertisements to mobilise supporters to engage in  “charity” for the prisoners. 2)The collections reports are regularly posted on the Telegram channel updating the subscribers about the money received by the women in camps. The support for IS is shared tacitly by sharing the emoji of the ISIS flag and also using it alongside the name of the fundraising  as being displayed by the woman in the above photo. 

A European woman on Instagram, an alleged intermediary for transferring money to free the women from the detention camps in north eastern Syria, in the wake of the repatriation of Swedish women from the camp urges her followers to “free the sisters from the hands of oppressors. This has been the common narrative to use the prospect of repatriation to what are claimed to be unbelieving lands to highlight the urgency of freeing these women from the camps. 

An ISIS supporter rancorously  narrates one of his personal experiences about how he was duped  by a woman living in Raqqa into believing that she was the widow of a foreign ISIS fighter  who was killed in Baghuz and now claiming to be  languishing in Syria’s al Hol camp. This woman who goes by the kunya of Umm Raya capitalized on the security concerns for the women from the camp by using the weapon of anonymity and siphoned off almost  1300 Euros from this ISIS supporter-  the money that he thought was destined for the finanical assistance for the ISIS sympathizers in the camps. The supporter  from his post claims that an other “brother somewhere from Africa” asked him to collect E 1300 that was then sent by him to Turkey to be further deliveried to Syria in al Hol.  By sharing this story he was aiming to expose the woman’s fake fund-raising scheme. He instructs other ISIS supporters who have been sending financial help in the camp to verify the identities of these benefactors/ residents in the camp by not falling prey to all the sobbing stories and machinations of these women. 

As observed, it is the foreign contingent of ISIS supporters in the annex part of the camp that remain most vocal on social media about their support for the group and it thus cannot be underestimated how and in what capacities these true believers blinded by their IS ideology might provide support for the group once they have been able to escape from the camps as evident in the earlier case study of an immigrant German speaking  woman who claims to raise funds for freeing the prisoners allegedly from Idlib, following her own escape from the camps. A group of French immigrant women who are currently detained in Al Roj and Al Hol  have also requested a year ago in an official letter that the French government strip their citizenship stating they don’t want to come back as they cannot freely  practice Islam in France as well as lamenting about how the France government will separate the children from their mothers after they are repatriated also forcing other women to toe the line who are in favour of repatriation.  

The ISIS loyalist mothers in the camps continue to giving combat lessons to children as evident from the videos uploaded on Facebook where  the child is seen engaged in  boxing or crossing roadblocks, raising pro ISIS slogans and absorbing ISIS publications showing how these mothers are rearing the next generation of fighters of the terrorist group. Some believe that living under ISIS, they have seen the worst and though it met a sad end they still believe that they benefited from it in many ways and it developed their understanding related to the “state of the heart and the understanding of religion” Through their Telegram channels, they reflect on  how living under then Islamic state territory and facing the bombs, facing hunger, loss of property and  loved ones  taught them to respect the virtues of patience and forbearance and “hope” and made them stronger by “way of testing their resolve.” One writes, “There was no money, no opportunity to earn it, not to borrow from someone … However, there was not a day that I would not eat, at least once a day” So even if today I start to worry about this, the memories of that passage from my life quickly bring me to my senses and it doesn’t bother me so much anymore . This concerns not only subsistence, it includes everything, including offspring and the same freedom.“  

That some of these women in the camps remain so highly committed to ISIS and deeply radicalized and are training their children in the same, underlines the deep need for thoughtful deradicalization programs to be instituted in the camps where these women can examine how they really want to live, what their limitations were both in their home countries and in Syria under ISIS, and in programs where Islam can be taught in a manner that these women can see that the takfir ideology does not actually represent the teachings of Islam as interpreted by the top Islamic scholars of the world.

Another woman from Al Hol states online how she would resist going to Al Roj as women there don’t wear sharia compliant clothing and there is no scope of supporting the khilafah. Other Russian woman defends the Islamic State against the accusations of IS being labelled as Hazimis (i.e. takfiris) due to their propensity to excommunicate every Muslim that doesn’t share their worldview. On the piecemeal efforts of IS on funding these supporters, a Russian woman fervently writes that they help them silently by not boasting to the world about every single penny they donate. Other women revel in  memories of Caliphate days glorifying the virtue of jihad and hoping that their children turn out like their fathers who were ISIS fighters. Adding to this perspective, another pro-ISIS woman writes ” The Khilafah brought us not only Izza [honour, fame and power] and Sharia but also once-in-a-lifetime experience. I feel blessed and thankful that I could be a part of it and it breaks my heart not to have sharia to live under.  Further blasting at the Europeans who eschewed jihad for staying in Western comforts she reasserts that they don’t have any regrets for the situation they are in now in the camps. Another woman in a bitter tone writes  “the best  years of our lives have been the years with the Islamic State, and the only regret I have, it’s being alive out of Baghouz today, because I hate it being in the hands of kufr who fought us for (defending) our religion. Evidently, she prefers victor, or martyrdom, as the ISIS saying goes.

Telegram, Facebook   

A woman revels in the memories of the ISIS “caliphate days” 

Source: Facebook ( December- January 2022)

A child, “Ibn Jafar ” with a covered face is seen practising boxing in the tent in the attire which is typical of an ISIS child soldier. Children featuring in the IS propaganda videos have been also seen as donning such clothes while taking combat lessons. These videos are made with the background of an ISIS nashid [chant] playing, that revolves around jihad 

A pro-ISIS woman, furious over the ISIS deemed “unislamic” cultural teachings that are being imparted to the children in camp al Roj.

An ISIS sympathiser from the annex of Al Hol camp expressed  happiness as one ISIS prisoner allegedly. killed a guard in the Iraqi section of camp and expressed sadness that he was shot dead by the SDF internal security forces while stating she is hopeful that Allah will accept his “martyrdom”.

A written emotive plea from a woman in Alhol, desperately awaiting her escape, calls   for financial  support from her “brothers” and grumbles how the “orphans of Islamic state” the children of  killed ISIS fighters,  will be repatriated to their home countries( abode of disbelief) further trying to  mobilize support in the camps saying  they are stripped of fulfilling their Islamic obligations(wearing of Sharia compliant clothing) 

The monitoring of the social media landscape and ISIS linked crowdfunding campaigns shows a modest increase in the constant appeals by various crowdfunding networks for arranging escapes and releases of  male ISIS fighters, women adherents and teenage boys from Al hol camp and as stated above, their successes in releasing/smuggling out these detained IS linked individuals brokered through official channels ie  under the guise of  reconciliation schemes where the fighters are released in exchange for hefty fees, or  discreetly through  their own human smuggling networks, alongside actual prison breakouts,  reinforces a very real threat of ISIS resurgence. This comes at a time following the prison attack when the SDF security forces  have  already tightened the security over all the activities in the outdoor camps,   and revamped security infrastructure in all the detention centres housing embattled male ISIS fighters. With respect to the prisoner release reconciliation schemes,  SDF leaders have stated that  though their administration has  released some IS members who haven’t committed  heinous crimes or who posed no significant threat,  through local  Syrian Arab tribal mediations and they have blatantly rejected the claims of freeing high profile ISIS militants and leaders  from prison that pose  a grave security threat   in return for attractive  bribes and payments.  The SDF claim is underlined by the fact that it would be against their own interests to free high level and battle hardened ISIS fighters who can return to kill them.

This research puts a clear emphasis on not only dissecting those individuals who are at the forefront of pro-ISIS fundraising campaigns operating from in and outside of Syria,  but also those,  in the internal political structures including the Turkish-back rebels and security apparatus who discreetly facilitate  settlements  leading  to the release of high profile, mid level  IS members, and funnel money and weapons for ISIS’s sleeper cells, smuggle phones inside the camps in exchange for staggering amounts of bribes thus  indirectly abetting and fueling the resurgence of ISIS. 

In Syria, for ISIS, Al Hol remains an ideological stronghold for many pro-ISIS women and provides a refuge for many of its clandestine operations and acts as one artery for its financial networks. And we see that while the killing of ISIS’s leader Abu Ibrahim Hashemi Al Qureshi  by U.S. special operations forces in early February in Idlib province might have dealt a strong blow to the group’s operational capabilities and hopes of resurgence, the group has a very horizontal leadership with multiple cells plotting duplicate schemes (such as the prison break) which scramble to navigates the  organisational turbulence and to address the leadership crisis  which might dampen the moral of their fighters. However, even without their previous leader, the group seems capable to arise again as it rigorously focuses on reviving its ranks and on spreading more menace, terror and bloodshed in the Al-Hol camp and the surrounding region. 

As security challenges overwhelmed humanitarian concerns in the camp,  the SDF introduced  aggressive  security/monitoring  measures  and bolstered its surveillance capabilities. Despite this, violent incidents and killings by ISIS operatives continue  incessantly . ISIS operatives killed three Iraqi refugees and aid workers in January, followed in February by an  alleged attempt to kidnap female guards amidst  a  chaos emanating from deadly fire in the camp that culminated in  killing of one child injuring many women in the annex of the camp. The beginning of March saw ISIS sleepers injuring 2 internal security forces subsequently raising the threat perception of the group in the eyes of SDF administration who now claim that they recently got intelligence that ISIS was planning to launch a large attack on the Alhol camp. Given ISIS’s past success with its “Breaking the Walls” campaign to revive its ranks this is not beyond imagination. 

This research also demonstrates that the increasing German and Russian crowdfunding campaigns that eye for brokering release of ISIS-linked women and children from the camps were able to complete the money collection efforts for smuggling nearly 6 ISIS-linked women from the camp in recent months.  With more than 700 attempted escapes last year, and the increasing interest and the funds generated by funding campaigns in helping the  pro-ISIS  women in getting out of camps, thwarting escapes from the camps continues to be an uphill security battle for the SDF.  While those who remain inside are not all pro-ISIS, the ISIS enforcers continue to engage in violent clashes with those who don’t subscribe to the ISIS worldview, indoctrinating their children to carry out violence and thereby incubating  the next generation of the ISIS fighters. 

There could be a huge price to pay if ISIS steps up its attack in north eastern Syria or more of its true believers, blinded by the IS ideology, get an opportunity to escape. Yet we see many supporters from all around the world open the pathway for their exit from the camps through these crowdfunding campaigns.. To counter this practice, the SDF had arrested many human smugglers  and weapon smugglers in the past year but the struggle continues unabated.

 The  aforementioned documented cases also show how the freed individuals related to ISIS  might potentially  join the ISIS ranks  in different  conflict theatres such as Idlib, to work in the  logistical or  operational capacity to facilitate attacks, or serve as the financial facilitators nourishing the group’s insurgency. Chillingly we must also remember that ISIS was adept at sending it’s fighter back home to launch horrific attacks as well as in Belgium and France most notably.  IS will continue to capitalise on the deteriorating security condition in camps,  by rigorously expanding  its logistical networks for moving money, weapons and women that stay loyal to the group. At a time when smuggling prices start at $16,000 for each foreign woman smuggled to Turkey with two or three children, ISIS leaders extract a significant portion of  smuggling fees money pumped into  their treasury by sympathisers. Coupled with this, the  estimation  that  the bank payments to camp residents amounted to more than $500,000, according to the testimony of 50 women inside and outside the camp, as well as local Kurdish officials and a former member of ISIS in Eastern Europe and a foreign fighter based in Idlib province  involved in smuggling operations, the regular stream of money going in and out of the camps reflects the increasing interest  on the part  of the IS affiliated crowdfunding networks  and its supporters to  turn the facility of  al-Hol as a central node for its financial operations helping to move its “estimated $100 million in cash reserves”  As one woman speaking to ICSVE noted, “The ISIS leaders’ women had everything during ISIS and now in the camps they still have everything, food, money, phones, while we have nothing.”

For all these reasons, the SDF should do everything  it can to avert another security disaster like the  ISIS Ghweiran prison assault that might beget further instability in the entire region with the possible repercussions for the home countries of the escaped ISIS fighters as well as countries might not be able to keep a  track of the movement of their citizens once escaped. This gives these escaped fighters and the ISIS women sympathizers the opportunity  to rejoin the terror group not only thus replenishing the ranks further bolstering ISIS manpower while also providing a grave threat to international security should they travel under the radar to mount attacks at home. The foreign women coming from these camps could prove to be a backbone for ISIS human smuggling efforts as these women are well positioned to attract funding and donations from ISIS sympathisers in their home countries with better understanding of their country’s financial system to further exploit the related vulnerabilities for securing funding. Likewise, many appear more than ready to die for their misplaced militant jihadist beliefs and could be turned into traveling suicide bombers, bearers of ISIS’s lethal violence into the West. 

ISIS takedown policies by social media platforms clearly aren’t working as fundraisers find ways around machine detection for instance spelling khalifa as k4lif4a and manage to communicate unimpeded. Similarly, fundraising apps are being exploited by the group.  While the SDF and AANES struggle to control the problem of the continued and growing threat of ISIS on their territory, the refusal response of much of the international community with regards to the repatriation of their nationals from the Syrian prison camps delays the solution in resolving the Al Hol quagmire, mirroring the unpleasant aftermath of the ISIS prison assault on the Al Sina prison. Without repatriations, countries need to face the dire fact that deradicalization programs aimed at the camp’s inhabitants while if done correctly are costly, need to be instituted to have any hope that the pro-ISIS women in al Hol won’t be raising a new generation of ISIS cadres we will all someday face.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and has also taught the Psychology of Terrorism for the Security Studies Department in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. Dr. Speckhard has been working in the field of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the 1980’s and has extensive experience working in Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

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