Terrorism

Extremists set tents on fire in Syria's al-Hol camp

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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A fire blazes inside the section of al-Hol displacement camp where foreigners are housed. [Photo courtesy of Euphrates Post]

There has been another outbreak of arson in al-Hol camp in eastern Syria's al-Hasakeh province, where hardline "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) women again set fire to the tents of several families, a local activist said.

The arsonists belonged to the hesba ("religious police"), a self-appointed group of vigilantes attempting to impose ISIS's rules and ideology by force, media and social activist Ammar Saleh told Diyaruna on Thursday (April 2nd).

The tents belonged to women and families who refused to obey their orders.

The hesba women set three tents on fire in the section of the sprawling desert camp that houses foreigners, many of whom had travelled to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS or married the group's fighters.

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Security personnel in al-Hol camp investigate a recent incident in which three tents were destroyed by fire. [Photo courtesy of Euphrates Post]

The fire destroyed all the contents of the three tents and could have spread and consumed large parts of the camp, Saleh said, were it not for the rapid intervention of security teams charged with maintaining security in the camp.

These security personnel are affiliated with the Kurdish internal security forces (Asayesh), Saleh said.

They used bulldozers to extinguish the fires, dumping earth on the blaze, he said, though one bulldozer caught fire during the process because of the size and intensity of the conflagration.

Al-Hol camp administrators asked residents to report the perpetrators so they could be held to account for their crimes and their repeated attacks could be brought to an end, Saleh said.

Some women are carrying out these attacks under the banner of the hesba, he said, taking it upon themselves to beat up and burn the tent of anyone who disobeys their orders.

A previous tent-burning incident took place in January, he said, and the most recent assault occurred about two weeks ago, when an Iraqi national who worked for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was killed with a hammer.

Another Iraqi was stabbed to death in the camp in February, according to media reports.

Security forces in the camp are continuing their investigations in order to prosecute the women involved, Saleh said, and have arrested a number of women and are questioning them.

Enhanced security measures

An internet café inside al-Hol has been closed as part of additional security measures, Saleh said, and monitoring inside the camp has been stepped up in an attempt to stop such incidents from recurring.

In addition to these heightened security measures, the camp's administration has taken steps to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) inside the camp.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Wednesday warned the virus could spread faster in overcrowded refugee and displacement camps -- including al-Hol -- than it has anywhere else so far.

Al-Hol has a population density of 37,570 people per square kilometre, it said.

Protective measures include enforcing tight controls on the entry of food trucks into the camp and suspending non-essential activities that could lead to people gathering, he said, as well as disinfecting facilities and tents in the camp.

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