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An ISIS fighter in custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Baghouz, Syria. (AFP)

Rudaw: SDF to Russia: We did not release ISIS detainees for money

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Mazloum Abdi, commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), denied Friday that Islamic State (ISIS) detainees had been released in exchange for payoffs.

Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had claimed that the SDF accepted kickbacks in exchange for the release of ISIS militants.

“Some disturbing information has been received that the Syrian Democratic Forces are freeing militants in return for kickbacks, who begin to relocate to other parts of Syrian territory, and we are verifying these reports,” Lavrov told reporters at a news conference in Moscow. His comments were reported by state-owned TASS Russian News Agency. 

“We have long warned our American partners who hold sway over the Syrian Democratic Forces that it is essential to make sure that the militants who are being kept in custody in these prison camps do not escape,” he added. “Unfortunately, there is a risk that this can happen.”

SDF commander Abdi replied to the Russian foreign minister in a tweet, dismissing the reports Lavrov cited as inaccurate.

“The reports Mr Lavrov spoke about are inaccurate. There is a semi-daily coordination between our forces and international parties, including the US and Russia, regarding the fate of Daesh detainees,” said the Kurdish commander. 

He claimed that the SDF has succeeded in handling the issue of ISIS detainees “in a way that maintains international peace and security, despite limited capabilities and the threat that Turkey poses to the safety and security of the detention centers.”

Islamic State militants started taking control of swathes of Syrian land in 2014, but with the support of the Global Coalition against ISIS, the SDF was able to take control of Baghouz, the militants’ last bastion in Deir ez-Zor province, in March 2019.

The SDF captured thousands of ISIS fighters in the fight, holding the militants in prisons and sending their families to al-Hol camp in Hasaka province.

The SDF released 34 members of ISIS on January 8. A few days earlier, 300 others had been released following a call from Arab tribal leaders in late 2019 to free those members of the group who have not been involved in the killing of SDF fighters.

There are more than 10,000 ISIS members in SDF prisons, and so far around 850 have been released.  Around 500 were released last year, according to Hasaka Military Council Commander Hussein Salmo.

The SDF said in a statement on Friday that ISIS detainees of Syrian origin are “dealt with as per the laws in force and they are subjected to real trials.” 

“Everyone who [served] his/her sentence is released as the decisions are made by the local courts.”

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