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01/28/2022 Syria (International Christian Concern) – After a premature announcement that fighting had ended, clashes between the Islamic State and the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed on January 27. The attack on al-Sinaa prison began on the evening of January 20, led by Islamic State militants both inside and outside the prison, and has left an unclear number dead, injured, and unaccounted for. The ongoing conflict is the largest attack in Syria by the Islamic State since their territorial defeat in March 2019 at the Battle of Baghouz.

On the evening of January 20, Islamic State militants set off car bombs while prisoners inside started a riot and attacked prison personnel in a coordinated attack between the captives and outside sleeper cells. The attack was reportedly the efforts of a previously-thwarted plan in November 2021. In the past few months, Islamic State cells have been notably quiet, leading analysts to presume correctly about an impending larger-scale attack, as the group saved ammunition and weapons.

The prison held between 3,000 and 5,000 prisoners, including a number of IS militants who surrendered at the last battle. Inmates at Sinaa prison included several hundred minors, some as young as 12 and some of whom have never been officially charged with or committed any crimes outside of having guardians affiliated with the Islamic State. After six days of fighting, the SDF announced that the battle was over after the prisoners surrendered. However, a group of 60 to 90 IS militants inside the prison was found on Thursday who was holding out. The SDF announced that 3,500 prisoners had been rearrested and estimated that around 200 people were killed, leaving an unclear number escaped or unaccounted for.

Sinaa prison is located nearby Ghweiran District, an area with some IS sympathizers and other Syrian civilians. Some fled to escape the clashes while others hunkered down with whatever supplies they had on hand as their city was ravaged yet again by war. Seemingly coordinated attacks across Northeast Syria also destabilized the recovering Syrian people, including attacks by other Islamic State militants and Turkish-backed factions.

The large-scale resurgence of the Islamic State, not even three years since their declared defeat in Syria, leaves Christians and minorities concerned about their safety and protection from the terrorist group.

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