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Strain of Islamic State Prisoners, Families Gnaws at Key Alliances

WASHINGTON – The struggle to make a future for thousands of captured Islamic State fighters and thei..

WASHINGTON – The struggle to make a future for thousands of captured Islamic State fighters and their families currently in makeshift prisons and overcrowded displaced persons camps across northeastern Syria may be starting to erode key partnerships in the fight against the terror group.

Most of the burden for guarding and caring for these volatile populations has fallen to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. But SDF officials say they are increasingly frustrated over what they perceive as Washingtons unwillingness to intervene and stop Turkey, also a member of the anti-IS coalition, from actively breaching security at the camps.

Officials with the SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the political body that governs the region, tell VOA they have repeatedly shared evidence of the Turkish operations to aid IS, also known as ISIS or Daesh, with the United States, but to no avail.

“A special committee should be formed to investigate the issue of human trafficking and the involvement of the official Turkish Intelligence Agency,” the AANES wrote in a recent letter to the U.S. and other coalition partners, obtained by VOA.

“Turkey is smuggling ISIS women from al-Hol [displaced persons] camp,” it added, using another acronym for Islamic State.

The letter, which appears to be undated, goes on to detail what the AANES claims are at least five attempts by Turkish operatives to help break IS-affiliated men, women and children out of al-Hol, all spanning a two-week period in July.

Ankara denies the allegations, instead blaming the Kurdish-led SDF, which it maintains is linked to the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the U.S. has labeled as a terrorist organization, and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“The PKK/YPG released large groups of ISIS/DAESH affiliated FTFs (foreign terrorist fighters) on 16 different occasions, through shady deals made in exchange of money,” the Turkish Embassy in Washington told VOA in a statement.

The embassy also said Ankara continues to advocate for the “immediate repatriation of FTFs and their families,” noting what it described as minimal sanitary and security conditions in the camps… and the abuse that especially women and children are subjected to.”

Officials with the U.S.-led coalition declined comment on the SDF and AANES allegations. And senior U.S. military officials said if there is reason to suspect Turkey of wrongdoing, they have not seen it.

“I don’t have any evidence, that I’m aware of, that anybody’s been smuggled out of the [al Hol] camp,” the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, told an audience during an online forum this past week [Wednesday].

U.S. diplomats have, likewise, tried to downplay any concerns.

“We are generally satisfied with the situation in northeast Syria,” said Amb. James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative on Syria.

“We listen to everything that the SDF raises with us, that the Turkish government raises with us,” he added.

Only Kurdish officials in northeast Syria argue the evidence against Turkey is mounting.

“There was a group within Turkish intelligence that is in contact with the families of ISIS women [from] various countries,” the letter states. “This group works to abduct women to sell them to their families in exchange for a large amount of money or to reuse them to revive ISIS.”

“Some of those women were proved to be found in the Turkish-occupied regions in Syria,” it adds.

In one incident detailed in its letter to the U.S. and other coalition members, the AANES said security forces arrested five IS women with Russian citizenship, and 13 children, as they tried to escape.

Four other incidents involved another 14 adults and 11 children, all attempting to escape al-Hol by hiding in tanker trucks used to supply the camp with water, the letter said, adding one of the truck drivers admitted to having already smuggled another 11 IS affiliated persons out of the facility.

Kurdish officials also point to another incident in mid-July, in which Turkish security sources bragged to Turkish media that their intelligence operatives had freed a Moldovan woman and her four children from al-Hol.

The Turkish sources identified the woman as Natalia Barkal and said she had moved to Syria with her husband in 2013. They added that Barkals husband had been killed during fighting, and that she had been living at the al Hol camp since January 2019.

SDF officials told VOA Barkal had arrived at al-Hol, along with thousands of other women and children affiliated with IS as the terror group lost control of its Syrian territory.

“Turkish intelligence is making great efforts and providing financial support,” the Kurdish officials said in a statement issued following Barkals escape.

“[We] call upon the whole world to hold Turkey responsible for smuggling and receiving Daesh members,” the statement added. “These practices are consistent with attempts to place Syria, the region, and the world under the threat of Daesh.”

When asked about the incident at the time, a State Department spokesperson referred all questions to the Turkish government, which has yet to make any official statement about the operation.

The SDF is holding as many as 10,000 IS fighters, including about 2,000 foreign fighters, in prisons across northeast Syria. At least another 11,000 IS women and children are being held at al-Hol and other nearby displaced persons camps, also under SDF guard.

U.S. officials have been leading the push for countries to repatriate their citizens and prosecute those who are suspected of having fought for or committed crimes under IS. Many countries, however, have been reluctant to do so.

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.


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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".


Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42


This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.


Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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