Last month, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a general amnesty to detained ISIS fighters and families. Starting on October 15, the SDF released 631 detainees from Alaya Prison and 289 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Al-Hol, with more releases expected soon. The SDF claims that only those found not guilty of committing crimes were released, but many are skeptical of these claims and the SDF have not provided an explanation as to how this determination or verdict was made.
People in the Northeast are particularly fearful that these ISIS fighters are being released back into their communities after having been in SDF’s custody for years. Families of Syrians who had been kidnapped and disappeared by ISIS were especially distraught because the released ISIS members might have answers about the fates and whereabouts of their loved ones. There have been reports that some of the ISIS prisoners released by the SDF were members of the “Hisbah” religious police, and would have information relevant to the search for the disappeared.
Thousands of Syrians are believed to have been abducted by ISIS, but very little information is known about what happened to them while they were in ISIS custody and after the fall of the extremist group. Families of the disappeared by ISIS have demanded that the SDF and the US-led Global Coalition help to facilitate forensic investigation and interrogation of ISIS members, so that the truth about their loved ones can finally be known.
We spoke to family members of the disappeared by ISIS, and their responses to the prisoner releases show their fears about this latest development.
A mother, whose son was detained by ISIS who asked to remain anonymous, who lives in Raqqa said, “I was waiting for the SDF to share information from these fighters about the locations of secret prisons, undiscovered cemeteries, smuggling of detainees to neighboring countries, any information that could point us to our loved ones. We got nothing.”
A father, whose two sons were abducted by ISIS and who lives in Hasaka and asked to be anonymous for security reasons, described his disappointment by this unexpected release, “I am still in disbelief that they didn’t get any statements from these fighters. We have received zero information about our sons. We are constantly let down by the SDF.”
The families of the disappeared are still hoping for answers about whether executions took place and where, and about the locations of secret prisons where it is suspected that some detainees have been buried.
For the past year, the SDF has repeatedly told the families of the missing that they have no information about their loved ones. They have stated that the fighters will be questioned about the disappeared in a court that will be established later. Unfortunately, neither the promises for a court nor the investigations have materialized, and the families are still waiting for any answers about their loved ones.