Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

CS1976

Incident date

January 20–26, 2022

Location

سجن الصناعة, Al Sina'a Prison, Al Hasakah, Syria

Geolocation

36.476929, 40.762153 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Nearby landmark

Airwars assessment

Between January 20th and January 26th 2022, Islamic State militants (ISIS) attempted to take control of Al-Sina’a prison in Gweran neighbourhood in Al-Hasakah, Syria. The prison, managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), by some reports held between 3000 to 5000 individuals associated with ISIS, including “hundreds” of so-called ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’ – the term for ISIS child soldiers. The prison came back under SDF control on January 26th after Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air and ground support from the US-led Coalition launched a counter-attack on the prison and surrounding area.

Initial reports indicate that between 6 and 7 civilians were killed as a result of SDF and the US-led Coalition actions during the counter-attack, who were likely residents living in the area surrounding the prison. However there were very few reports that were able to clearly identify the number of fatalities. Local reporting on civilian casualty estimates were challenged by the high intensity of the operation – while most sources were in agreement that seven civilians had been killed in the surrounding area, there was lack of consensus on whether or not one of the individuals included in that count had in fact been killed by ISIS.

Estimates of the number of injured also varied – one source reported that a journalist with Hawar news station was injured by SDF and US-led Coalition actions in the surrounding area, while one other source mentioned witnessing ‘lots’ of injured bodies.

The majority of reports characterised the US-led Coalition action in the surrounding areas as using heavy machine guns from helicopters to target ISIS militants in nearby residential areas. The Pentagon confirmed that they were also providing ground support using Bradley fighting vehicles; armoured vehicles capable of firing heavy weapons.

Inside the prison, as the events unfolded local sources were unable to distinguish between those individuals killed ‘hors de combat’ – i.e. protected under international humanitarian law given that they are detainees, and as such ‘in the power of an adverse party’; those killed as a result of directly participating in hostilities with SDF and US-led Coalition forces who were not imprisoned in the first place; and those who took up arms during the fight to gain control of the prison.

This is reflected in reporting on the large number of children reported to be detained in the prison. According to local reports, between 15 and 22 formerly detained children were killed inside or in the vicinity of the prison. The New York Times reported that the leader of the SDF said that “a very small number” of children had been killed. Apparently “some escaped with the adults” who were “either rearrested or killed.” John Kirby, the chief Pentagn press spokesperson confirmed on February 1st that ISIS did “have a population of children there. Many of them teenage boys, which they were either and or using as human shields.”

In a voice recording obtained by Human Rights Watch, a boy who identified himself as a 17 year old Australian said he had been wounded in an airstrike, and witnessed at least two others, aged 14 and 15, killed in front of him. According to the Associated Press, the boy said that he saw other children killed in shooting he described as “non-stop” and that he was reported to have said, “they are not stopping shooting. Every little bit they shoot. Every little bit they hit a missile.” This indicates that children inside the prison may have been killed from both ground operations and airstrikes overhead conducted by the US-led Coalition.

Another young prisoner told Human Rights Watch that “children as well as adults had been killed though they weren’t certain of numbers. One said perhaps 15 to 20 boys were killed.” Another prisoner said “It’s hard to guess, honestly it’s very chaotic… One kid I evacuated as we were trying to stop his bleeding, he died in front of me. His leg was busted open… We tried to stop the bleeding with a shirt. He looked very young.”

Two boys were reported by the New York Times to have been found on January 30th on the northeastern side of the prison, on the road. Four other adult corpses were found with them, presumed to be ISIS members. According to the Times, “neighbourhood residents said the boys were among a group of escaped inmates, most of them Iraqi, who were killed on Friday by the SDF as its troops went door to door to hunt down ISIS fighters.”  Apparently it was not clear whether the boys were being held hostage by the ISIS fighters or were trying to escape with them. The witnesses did not know whether they had been armed.

Human Rights Watch also noted reports that a makeshift hospital in the prison had come under anti-aircraft and heavy machine gun fire on Tuesday 25th January around sunset.

John Kirby confirmed that the US was providing support to the SDF on January 24th during a Pentagon Press Briefing, “we have helped provide real-time surveillance during the event. We have conducted a series of strikes through this days long operation to include the procession targeting of ISIS fighters who were attacking the SDF from buildings in the area and we have provided limited ground support strategically positioned to assist security in the area.” Clashes between SDF and the US-led Coalition and ISIS militants continue in the surrounding area, particularly in response to concerns around escaped detainees who are now unaccounted for.

SDF released a statement on January 26th which said “The Peoples’ Hammer Operation has culminated with our entire control of the al-Sina’a prison in al-Hasakah and the surrender of all Daesh terrorists.”

Operation timeline as reported by local sources:

January 20th 2022

In a video by North Press Agency, witnesses described explosions around 9-10pm on the night of January 20th. One witness identified the body of a young man who lived in the surrounding area named Ghassan Awaf al-Anezi, aged 20, who was killed by ISIS. She also added: “there were a lot of victims in our neighborhood. We saw many martyrs, the dead and the wounded were on the ground.” It was unclear from local reporting if the civilian casualties mentioned resulted from ISIS actions or from actions by SDF and the US-led Coalition. According to the New York Times, ISIS found a photo of him in an SDF uniform during compulsory military service, before they shot him.

January 21st 2022

An ISIS car bomb exploded outside the prison walls, with local sources stating that a riot was taking place as a result inside the prison. Fighting continued between SDF with US-led Coalition forces and ISIS in the surrounding area and on the prison facility.

US-led Coalition helicopters targeted ISIS militants with heavy machine guns in the vicinity of the Municipal Departments College in the Gheweran neighbourhood, south of Al-Hasakah. Al-Zohour neighbourhood was also targeted by the US-led Coalition. A Facebook post by ِAl Khabour reported that the Faculty of Economics in Al-Hasakah was destroyed by Coalition airstrikes without mentioning any casualties.

Euphrates Post put the number of civilians killed at four, while Sky News reported that five civilians had been killed. Neither source specified if the civilians were killed by SDF and US-led Coalition forces, or by ISIS attacks. It is also unclear whether this number was a cumulative toll of civilian harm, or from this specific day.

Euphrates Post additionally reported that at least 10 members of ISIS and 13 members of the SDF had been killed “in the vicinity of Al-Sina’a Prison in Ghweran neighborhood”.

January 22nd 2022

According to Euphrates Post, an airstrike by the US-led Coalition targeted the Al-Sana’a prison, the first locally reported incident of a US-led Coalition air attack on the prison itself. One building was reported to have been hit.

In addition, US-led Coalition F16 planes reportedly carried out airstrikes in the Ghweran neighbourhood targeting alleged ISIS cells. Euphrates Post also reported that the US-led Coalition also dropped flyers in the city of Al-Hasakah, calling on people to report any “terrorist or suspicious activities.”

Local reports also indicated direct clashes between Syrian Democratic forces and ISIS militants inside the prison.

January 23rd 2022

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the total death toll since the start of the prison fighting had reached “123: 77 ISIS fighters, seven civilians and 39 members of Asayish Forces, prison guards and counter-terrorism forces.” Save the Children reported that audio testimony indicated that multiple children were likely among those killed.

January 24th 2022

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that there were “renewed clashes inside Ghuwayran prison… after airstrikes by International Coalition aircraft on positions where ISIS members holed up.”  Outside the prison, the SDF, Asayish forces and US-led Coalition reportedly continued to search for ISIS members and escaped prisoners in local neighbourhoods.

The New York Times reported that as of January 24th, ISIS fighters were in control of a quarter of the prison and were “using the boys as human shields”, in addition to threatening to kill the boys if the Coalition continued its assault. According to the Times, among the inmates at the prison were boys as young as 12 – including Syrians, Iraqis, and about 150 non-Arab foreigners.

The Morning Star News put the death toll as of January 24th at five civilians, with one rumored to have been beheaded by ISIS. A journalist working for the SDF was reportedly killed and a reporter from the Hawar news station was reportedly injured.

January 25th 2022

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that a group of children were evacuated from the prison in buses, but the final destination of these buses remain unknown. They also mentioned that the day before other prisoners had been transferred to Al-Shaddadi. According to the Washington Post, this number could be around 400. SOHR also provided an updated death toll: “114 ISIS fighters, seven civilians and 45 members of Asayish Forces, prison guards and counter-terrorism forces” killed since January 20th.

Local sources reported that US-led Coalition airstrikes continued with “five raids a while ago.” Al Araby reported that this happened “at dawn.”

@DeirEzzore reported that paramedics were brought in to treat wounded ISIS fighters and prisoners. According to a video posted by Euphrates, a witness reported that there are unarmed civilians who were killed by the SDF and that “children were among [the] killed” and “many children [were] injured inside.” A Hawar News Agency report also identified nine hostages as being liberated by SDF from the prison the night before.

Two US-led Coalition airstrikes were reported on Sadkob Gas Station, Al Hasakah. The building was reportedly severely damaged, but there were no reports of civilian casualties in the area.

January 26th 2022

On January 26th there were no reports of US-led Coalition action inside the prison or its vicinity. The SDF announced the defeat of ISIS and that it had regained control of the prison.

Any on-going reporting of civilian casualties relating to the SDF and US-led Coalition actions will be treated as separate incidents in the Airwars archive.

As more information comes available, Airwars will attempt to disambiguate the civilian casualty incidents over the course of the six days into separate civilian harm events.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    6 – 7
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–10
  • Causes of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions, Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Known attacker
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    24–374
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2–200

Sources (74) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (25) [ collapse]

  • Ahmed Nasser, a member of the media center of the "Self-Defense" of the SDF, was killed during the the clashes over Al-Sina'a Prison. His death was reported on January 21, 2022. (Image posted by Euphrates Post)
  • The Faculty of Economics in Al-Hasakah after it was destroyed by an air strike by the International Coalition. (Image posted by Al Khabour via Facebook)
  • Helicopters of the International Coalition target with heavy machine guns the vicinity of Al-Zohour neighborhood in Al-Hasakah city, in conjunction with the continuation of clashes between the “SDF” and ISIS cells in the neighborhood of Ghweran, Al-Zohour neighborhood (Hosh Al-Ba’er) and the Al-Maqbara area
  • The moment the international coalition aircraft targeted one of the sites where ISIS fighters were fortified in the Ghweran neighborhood of Hasaka.
  • The belongings of some Islamic State fighters. Pic: SDF via AP
  • Kurdish security forces deploy in Syria’s northern city of Hassakeh amid ongoing fighting with Isis, 22 January 2022 (AFP via Getty )
  • Islamic State fighters who were arrested after the prison was attacked. Pic: SDF via AP
  • Forces involved in clashes outside of the prison in Al Hassakah. (Image posted by Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
  • Al-Khabour #Al-Hasakah, heavy shelling targeting the industrial prison in the city of Al-Hasakah
  • Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Hasaka on Monday.Credit...Ahmed Mardnli/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • Some of the 300 ISIS fighters who surrendered on Monday in a photo provided by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Credit...Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, via Associated Press
  • An American attack helicopter flies over Hasaka on Monday. The United States has been conducting airstrikes there for four days.Credit...Baderkhan Ahmad/Associated Press
  • SDF Forces surrounding the prison during the siege. (Image from Reuters)
  • Location of the prison. (Image from Google Maps)
  • Residents fled their homes in Ghwayran, Hasakah, amid fighting between IS and Kurdish forces in Syria. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

  • A videotape of a number of the dead, most of whom are ISIS prisoners, in the besieged Al-Sina'a prison in the city of Al-Hasakah.
  • After targeting it with two air raids hours ago, a number of ISIS fighters are still holed up in the Sadkob gas station, the number of fighters is about three (source), they clashed with members of the SDF a few minutes ago.
  • Syria Democratic Forces liberate 9 hostages inside Al-Sina'a prison in Ghweran neighborhood of Hasaka city during an operation on Monday night. (Hawar News Agency)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Al Sina’a Prison (سجن الصناعة) and its surroundings, for which the generic coordinates are: 36.476929, 40.762153. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Democratic Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Syrian Democratic Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

Syrian Democratic Forces

On January 20, 2022, roughly 7 p.m., and through prior planning, the Daesh terrorists waged an attack using several suicide bombers on al-Sina’a prison that hols thousands of Daesh terrorist detainees.
In the beginning, the terrorists exploded a car bomb at the main gate of the prison and attacked it from three axes, in an attempt to control the prison and strike our forces that intervened to abort this attack.
At the same time, thousands of the terrorist detainees inside attacked the prison staff, such as internal security forces and institutional workers, and a large cargo car loaded with weapons and ammunition approached the prison gate so that terrorist detainees could get weapons as they escaped from the prison.
Had the attack succeeded, they would have continued their attack against the Geweran and al-Zuhour neighborhoods, in addition to some civil and military institutions of the Autonomous Administration in the region, and that was exactly the scheme that they wanted to implement.
Once again, tunnels had been dug inside some houses in neighborhoods such as Geweran and al-Zuhour in order to back the attack. That is how they prepared the ground for the success of their plan. But at first, the prison guards and our fighters showed super bravery, fought valiantly until they reached the stage of martyrdom. These comrades were the main factor in thwarting the Daesh well-planned scheme that adopted the surprise method. Then our forces (SDF) and the internal security forces (Asayish) intervened quickly, moved in an orderly manner, and imposed the siege on the prison and the university building adjacent to the prison wall. After controlling the perimeter of that wall, it was found that some Daesh terrorist detainees who managed to escape from the prison dormitories had reached those buildings, and barricaded there, so a tight cordon was imposed around those buildings as well.
On the other hand, our forces had imposed a complete security cordon on the vicinity of the Geweran neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods. Then our forces started the attack phase.
As part of the “Hammer of peoples” operation, our forces have conducted a sweep and clear-up operation against Daesh terrorists in the vicinity of the prison, in the al-Hasaka neighborhoods, and also in the areas of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa. Our SDF and the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) moved very professionally towards the groups of the terrorist attackers, eliminating many of them and incapacitating other armed attackers.
As a result, all the terrorist detainees were recaptured and transferred to other prisons.
In order not to harm the lives and homes of citizens in Hasaka, as well as to protect the children (cubs of the caliphate) in prison, and because ISIS mercenaries used them as “human shields”, for these reasons, our forces moved with high sensitivity and had long patience to deal with the situation, which made the process take additional time.
In order not to harm the lives and homes of citizens in al-Hasaka and to protect the children (the caliphate cubs) were used by Daesh terrorists as “human shields”, our forces dealt with the situation in high sensitivity and long patience which made the process take a long time.
In the end, based on the heroism of prison guards under the leadership of Comrade Jamal Kobane, who showed unique resistance by their robust and rapid intervention, and by the beginning of the sweep operation in al-Hasaka, the Daesh terrorist scheme was foiled, and the situation was controlled.
The Daesh terrorist attack was undoubtedly not a normal attack, and it was part of a long-planned extensive scheme. According to the documents confiscated and the confessions of the captured leaders of the terrorist attackers, it was found that if their attack had succeeded, they would have attacked other neighborhoods in al-Hasaka as well, in conjunction with the attacks on the areas of Al-Hol, Al-Shadada, and Deir Ezzor, to put their extensive scheme into effect, thus declaring the alleged caliphate of Daesh, falsely called the “Second Islamic State”. The attack on the al-Sina’a prison was not a local attack, nor could it be limited to the prison alone, and it was not only aimed at releasing a number of terrorist detainees, but also they wanted to launch a large-scale attack on the area to spread once again their terrorism in killing and imposing darkness on the people of the area and to revive the terrorist organization again.
However, their scheme ultimately failed at the end, and again, as what happened in the al-Baguz, they collectively surrendered to our forces, and we took full control of the situation.
Once again, our forces have strongly demonstrated their boldness, vigilance, and their ability in achieving victories, creating the spirit and hope of victory for all the region’s components, proving its worth, and earning the confidence of their people.
Without a doubt, the large-scale scheme of the daesh terrorist organization was not a purely local attack. According to the information we have and the confessions of the arrested terrorists, some of the terrorist attackers came from the occupied areas of Sri Kaneh/Ras al-Ain and Gri Spi/Tal Abyad, and others came from Iraq to support them. However, the basis of the scheme and the management of the attack, “i.e. the operating room”, according to the documents, was prepared outside the Syrian border.
Certainly, the Daesh terrorist attack was not out of the blue. After the victory achieved in al-Baguz, and the end of the geographical presence of Daesh, the terrorist organization reconstituted and revived its ranks to adapt to the new conditions and circumstances, to regain its former power, and impose fear and terrorism on society and the people of the region. He has always attempted to attack, but our forces, especially in the areas of Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, al-Shadada, and on the Iraq-Syria border, have been fighting relentlessly for more than three years the Daesh terrorist organization. If the Daesh terrorist organization could stand on its feet and strengthen itself, it would have been able to conduct terrorist attacks and operations, yet it failed to do so. What happened in the attack on the al-Sina’a prison confirms that it has invested in the political circumstances and has been assisted, directly or indirectly, by some regional States. In this context, the role of the Turkish state was the most prominent.
The Turkey State is the most responsible for the Deash terrorist attack on the al-Sina’a prison and the continued existence of the Daesh terrorist organization. The Turkey State’s attacks and constant threats on the north and eastern Syria give Daesh terrorist organization moral strength to catch its breath again and prepare the ground for a regrouping. Occupied areas such as Sri Kaneh/Ras al-Ain and Gri Spi/Tal Abyad have also been transformed into the safest and most protected areas for Daesh to organize itself and train its elements, and some of the terrorists attacking the al-Sina’a prison came from those areas. On this basis, the Turkish State is responsible for the terrorist attacks on the region.
On the other hand, good cooperation has emerged between our SDF and the international coalition forces against Daesh. The work and fight against Daesh took place at a good level, where operations were coordinated and conducted together
. But since the defeat of Daesh geographically, leaving thousands of Daesh detainees and tens of thousands of their families living in Al-Hol camp, it caused a heavy burden on SDF and the Autonomous Administration, and the recent attack has proved that the Daesh still poses a major threat not only to our regions but also to the security of the whole world. This attack showed that there is an urgent need for international military and political assistance, particularly by the international coalition, to the SDF and Autonomous Administration, and intensify the assistance by providing advanced technology to eliminate the terrorist organization and to stop this imminent threat to the whole world. This is certainly a responsibility directly related to working to fight the Daesh terrorist organization, as well as to solving the issue Daesh families by the SDF, Autonomous Administration, and the international coalition, which is ultimately a joint responsibility.
This attack once again demonstrated the need to seek radical solutions to the issue of Daesh families in the al-Hol camp that has become a time bomb with a pulled safety pin, and the need to speed up the trial and prosecution of Daesh terrorists by constructing an international tribunal.
The longer it takes to find implemented solutions to these issues on the ground, the more benefits Daesh got.
Our people in al-Hasaka in general, ” Kurds, Arab, Syriac and Assyrians”, particularly those living in the neighborhoods of Geweran, al-Zuhour, al-Nashwa, and in all neighborhoods of the city, have shown, over the past week, unprecedented cooperation with our SDF and with the Internal Security Forces (Asayish), defending their neighborhoods and cities, providing information swiftly to the security forces. The last week has also proved that if fighters and the people unite, victory is inevitable and achieved. This has become a luminous example of that fact we have experienced. We, therefore, thank our people in al-Hasaka for their vigilance and spirit of sacrifice, as well as for their help and honorable standing with their forces. We say to our people in the north and eastern Syria that it is necessary to be more vigilant and alert against all attacks by Daesh and others and that they must organize themselves strongly to defend their neighborhoods, villages, and homes. This is one of the lessons that can be deduced from this attack by Deash terrorist organization.
Once again, we thank the international coalition forces, which have shown, over the past week, good cooperation and coordination with our forces and have strongly and effectively provided the necessary assistance.
The SDF and the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) have also shown a high spirit of sacrifice, and have made the hopes and schemes of Daesh stuck in their throats. In this operation, a number of our fighters have risen to the rank of martyrdom. On this basis, we recall with all due respect and pride all the martyrs of the “Hammer of peoples” operation, and we promise them to achieve the victory, and we congratulate our people and all our fighters and leaders for the success of this operation.
We call on the public and all relevant parties, telling them that in order for Daesh’s nightmare not to happen again, and not to be able to regroup again, it would be imperative to provide aid and assistance — more strongly — to the SDF, the people and components of north and eastern Syria and the Autonomous Administration. The more political, military, and economic support for SDF and Autonomous Administration, the more Daesh gets weakened and enters the atrophy stage.
As a result, the Daesh terrorist organization tried to bring the area and its people back to the dark days and a nightmare hanging over them, so it benefited from several parties. But, the heroism, boldness, skill, vigilance of our fighters, and the association of our people with their forces and rally around them and on the anniversary of the victory of the resistance of Kobane and with its spirit, they made another victory, and we, in turn, dedicate this victory to our people and martyrs.
As part of the “Hammer of Peoples” operation, and in areas such as Deir Ezzor and Raqqa, local sweep operations are still ongoing in specific points and widely against the remnants of the Daesh and its sleeper cells.
The outcome of the Hammer of Peoples operation:
The Daesh terrorist detainees inside the prison brutally killed 77 martyrs of the prison staff and guards. In the 7-day-long clashes outside the prison, 40 of our fighters and 4 civilians were martyred.
In total: 121 of our fighters and prison staff were heroically martyred.
Once again, we recall with all due respect and reverence all of our martyrs.
The number of Deash terrorist detainees and attackers killed 374.
The General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    6 – 7
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–10
  • Causes of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions, Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Known attacker
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    24–374
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2–200

Sources (74) [ collapse]