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Heavy fighting continues for third day to stop ISIS prison break attempt in Syria

Erbil, Iraq — Heavy fighting continued on Saturday for a third day in a battle to stop ISIS' biggest operation in Syria since its defeat in 2019: a prison break attempt in the city of Al-Hasakah.

More than 100 ISIS fighters attacked Gweiran prison late Thursday, trying to free nearly 3,500 ISIS detainees held by the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces — SDF — in northeastern Syria. According to an SDF official, the attack was well-coordinated between ISIS attackers and detainees inside the jail, which is also known as al-Sina'a prison.

The source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, described the attack as ISIS' biggest activity since its "caliphate" fell three years ago.

In a video published by ISIS' media mouthpiece Amaq, ISIS gunmen, appearing to number more than three dozen, are seen penetrating the prison walls. They also appear to be executing prison guards while chanting "Allahu Akbar." 

The attack, with loud explosions, created panic among locals and chaos in the city. Hundreds of families fled the areas around the prison where ISIS fighters controlled. Five civilians have died in the fighting, according to SDF.

This photo provided by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces shows the flag and bags of Islamic State group fighters who were arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces after they attacked Gweiran prison, on January 21, 2022.  Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, via AP

Heavy clashes have continued over the past three days, with more prison inmates escaping. SDF forces have moved into the area and called for more reinforcements. 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Friday that the U.S. conducted airstrikes to support the SDF, The Associated Press reports. U.S. forces were also seen in Bradley fighting vehicles about 300 meters from the fighting location. 

Farhad Shami, spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said on Twitter Saturday they had retaken several points from ISIS on the northern side of the prison, "eliminating several attackers."

The SDF also announced that 22 of their fighters died and 17 were injured since the attack started late Thursday evening. In that same time period, 45 ISIS members were killed, including 22 on Saturday, and 110 escaped detainees were captured, according to the SDF.

The prison contains nearly 3,500 ISIS fighters, mostly foreigners who were arrested or surrendered after the Islamic State lost its last portion of its territory in March 2019. ISIS has attacked the site several times before with suicide car bombings and motorbike attacks, but never on such a large scale. 

After the attack, the SDF called for reinforcements to protect other prisons in the region. 

ISIS on Friday also attacked a military base in Iraq's Diyala province, killing one officer and 10 soldiers in the Iraqi Army.

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