The decapitated bodies of two young Egyptian girls were found on Tuesday in a sprawling camp in northeastern Syria housing tens of thousands of women and children linked to the Islamic State group, an opposition war monitor said and local officials.
The girls’ bodies were found in the camp’s sewage system days after their disappearance, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said the girls were beheaded. It was the first such crime in weeks at the facility.
A camp official who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals said the girls were aged 11 and 13.
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Siamand Ali, an official with the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, confirmed the killings.
These grisly crimes in the camp are usually committed by members of IS sleeper cells, especially against women who resist the group’s extreme ideology. The Observatory, Ali and the camp leader all blamed IS.
The killings are the first since US-backed Syrian fighters concluded a 24-day sweep in al-Hol in mid-September in which dozens of extremists were arrested and weapons were confiscated in the framework of the operation. The operation took place after IS sleeper cells committed crimes inside the camp.
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After the rise of ISIS in 2014 and its declaration of a so-called Islamic caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, thousands of men and women came from all over the world to join the extremist group . ISIS lost the last strip of land it once controlled in eastern Syria in March 2019, but since then its sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks in Syria and Iraq.
“We are horrified to learn that two children have been killed in al-Hol camp (in) Syria,” said Tanya Evans, national director of the International Syria Rescue Committee. She added that the latest incident involving the death of children in the camp highlights the urgent need for longer-term solutions for the children of al-Hol.
Some 50,000 Syrians and Iraqis are crammed into tents in the fenced camp. Nearly 20,000 of them are children; most of the rest are women, the wives and widows of IS fighters.
Earlier this month, Doctors Without Borders said the camp was witnessing widespread violence, exploitation and lawlessness. The group said countries whose citizens are being held in al-Hol have failed to take responsibility for protecting them.
The two teenage girls were found in a separate and heavily guarded section of the camp known as the Annex, where an additional 2,000 women from 57 countries – considered IS’s most staunch supporters – along with their approximately 8,000 children are housed, the Observatory said.
The Observatory which tracks the 11 years of conflict in Syria has recorded 28 crimes since the beginning of the year in al-Hol in which 30 people have been killed.