WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Around 10,000 Islamic State detainees and their families in nearby camps in northeastern Syria present a big security risk, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday, even though the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish militia was fully capable of keeping them secure.
“It’s not a particularly secure situation,” the official told reporters in a conference call. “It’s a ticking time bomb to simply have the better part of 10,000 detainees, many of them foreign fighters,” he said, and repeated Washington’s stance that they should be repatriated to their countries.
Islamic State has lost almost all of its territory in Iraq and Syria. Its former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. raid last month. World leaders welcomed his death, but they and security experts warned that the group, which carried out atrocities against religious minorities and horrified most Muslims, remained a security threat in Syria and beyond.
Allies have been worried that Islamic State militants could escape as a result of Turkey’s assault against Syrian Kurdish militia who have been holding thousands of the group’s fighters and tens of thousands of their family members.
“We are very confident about the ability of SDF to secure all of the detention facilities that they are holding people in and to manage al-Hol camp, but again, we don’t want to put any of this under any risk for any kind of humanitarian, counter-terrorism and other reasons,” the official said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler)