“We can contain the women, but we can’t control their ideology,”
At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule. Murders highlight the growing perils inside al-Hol camp, guarded by U.S. allies.
Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar would be right at home there. Let’s gofundme airfare.
Why spend blood and treasure on these savages? No excuses for these killers. Death by firing squad.
At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule
Tension, fear and violence in Syria’s al-Hol displacement camp
By Louisa Loveluck and Souad Mekhennet, Washington Post, September 3 at 2:18 PM
AL-HOL, Syria — The woman told aid workers it was an accident. Her 14-year-old daughter had slipped and fallen, she said. There was nothing they could have done.
But the body told a different story. The girl’s neck had been broken in three places, doctors said, and she died with eyes open, biting her lips and struggling to breathe. Photos and medical records suggested she had been beaten about the torso, then strangled. It was murder, not a misstep.
The teen, an Azerbaijani girl who had lived until earlier this year with her mother under the Islamic State’s rule, had run afoul of the die-hard ISIS adherents who have come in the past few months to dominate parts of the al-Hol displacement camp here in northeastern Syria, according to camp residents. They said she had suggested dispensing with her black niqab, the face covering worn by ultraconservative Muslim women.
Half a year after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State, the vast sprawl of tents at the al-Hol camp is becoming a cauldron of radicalization. About 20,000 women and 50,000 children who had lived under the caliphate are held in dire conditions at the camp, which is operated and guarded by 400 U.S.-supported Kurdish troops. With the men of ISIS imprisoned elsewhere, the women inside the fences of al-Hol are reimposing the militant group’s strictures, enforcing them upon those deemed impious with beatings and other brutality and extending what residents and camp authorities call a reign of fear.
Several guards have been stabbed by women who concealed kitchen knives in the folds of their robes. Women are threatened for being in contact with lawyers who might get them out of the camp or for speaking with other outsiders. A pregnant Indonesian woman was murdered, medical officials say, apparently after speaking to a Western media organization. Images of her body suggest she might have been whipped.
“It’s happening at night and it’s happening in the shadows, but no one informs on who did it,” said a senior member of the camp’s intelligence department. “They’re afraid of each other here.”
Women and children stand by a gate in late July during a brief dust storm at the foreigners’ section of the al-Hol camp. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)
Fourteen people with direct knowledge of camp conditions described in interviews the mounting anger, violence and fanaticism growing amid the squalor. These people, including camp residents, aid workers and Kurdish officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
Kurdish security officials, affiliated with the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), say they have the troops to guard the facility but do little else. “We can contain the women, but we can’t control their ideology,” the intelligence official said. “There are many types of people here, but some of them were princesses among ISIS. There are spaces inside the camp that are like an academy for them now.”
In a report last month, the Defense Department’s inspector general, citing information from the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, warned that the SDF’s inability to provide more than “minimal security” at the camp has allowed for the “uncontested” spread of ISIS ideology there.
In some places, children, including an estimated 20,000 born in the caliphate, are literally a captive audience.
Near one gate of the camp, guards have collected homemade toy guns and Islamic State paraphernalia that children have made to pass the time. The play weapons are made from water pipes and bound tightly with duct tape. Flags have been colored in painstaking detail, the hand neat but unmistakably childish.
“The children need help here. You can see it,” the intelligence official said, fixing the pile with a tired stare. “How do we stop them becoming their parents?”
A toy gun, made out of cut pipes and tape, and Islamic State posters confiscated by Kurdish security forces at the al-Hol camp. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)
Since the start of the year, when the camp accommodated fewer than 10,000 people, al-Hol has swelled dramatically. Many of the women and children were transferred to the camp after the last ISIS stronghold, in the Syrian village of Baghouz, was overrun by the SDF, with U.S. military backing.
The residents are now segregated by nationality. Most sections house Syrians and Iraqis, while more than 9,000 others — among them the camp’s most radical inhabitants — are penned behind chain-link fences in a sun-bleached and closely guarded patch known as the “Annexe.” It is home to Arabs, Asians, Africans and Europeans, among others.
The guards enter this zone warily. An ambush late last month left one with broken bones.
“They can do anything to you here,” said one European woman in her 20s, her blue eyes darting around the camp as she spoke.
Three camp residents said that they had been stopped by women who first corrected their attire and then threatened that repeat behavior would be punished.
The relative of a European woman confined in the Annexe with three children described her as more fearful than ever before. The woman had changed tents several times after a group of Tunisian and Indonesian women began threatening her upon learning that the family’s attorney was trying to bring her home, according to the relative.
“They threaten other women who either gave interviews and declared they were no longer supporting ISIS, or who are trying to return to their countries,” the relative said.
A member of the Kurdish security forces runs toward a group of women who forced open a gate during a dust storm at the foreigners’ section of the camp. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)
In the nearby city of Hasakah, two doctors said that patients from the camp were refusing to come for follow-up appointments in facilities run by Kurdish authorities or international organizations. “They tell us, ‘We cannot come,’ ” one said. “They say, ‘If we come to you, [hard-liners] beat us, or worse.’ ”
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