ISIS attacks spike in Turkey-controlled region of Syria

Attacks by Islamic State (ISIS) have spiked in a Turkish-controlled region of Syria, the Washington Times reported on Wednesday citing researchers speaking at a roundtable discussion on religious freedoms.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom convened the roundtable to discuss violations on religious freedom following the U.S. military’s ceding of territory in northern Syria to Turkish forces and their allies in October 2019. 

“These events ended much of the good work for the last five, six years to properly defeat ISIS,” said Hassan Hassan, programme director for non-state actors and geopolitics at the Center for Global Policy.

Panelists also said attacks led by ISIS extremists have “intensified” against security forces, oil fields and civilian sites inside Syria in 2020.

“What starts in Syria will not stay in Syria,” Hassan said.

The Washington Times did not provide details on numbers of ISIS attacks or specific areas in which ISIS attacks had spiked. 

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 after U.S President Donald Trump announced he was pulling U.S. forces from areas in northeast Syria. 

The advance of Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies provoked international outrage as U.S.-aligned Kurdish-led groups that had fought against Islamic State were shelled and withdrew from several areas under their control.

In February, a report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said that the number of attacks by ISIS had increased by nearly 20 percent following Turkey's offensive into northeast Syria – up from a monthly average of 55 to 66.

The Washington Times said that panellists at the roundtable on religious freedoms also spoke about rising sectarianism, authorities denying Christian and Kurdish women identification cards for not wearing head coverings, and raided graveyards in areas under Turkish control. 

“Rather than respect the area’s diversity, Turkey has engaged in ethnic cleansing,” Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said. 

Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and visiting scholar at Harvard University, said violence has been rising against religious minorities since Turkey’s intervention in Syria last year, including the displacement of 137 Christian families.

“Unless Turkey withdraws from the areas it occupies, it is unlikely the original inhabitants…will ever return to their homes,” Holmes said.