ISIS loyalists regroup in a Syrian refugee camp | Eurasia Diary -

22 May, Wednesday

ISIS loyalists regroup in a Syrian refugee camp

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A militant band of women loyal to the Islamic State is terrorizing others who fled the battlefront for this sprawling camp in northeastern Syria, demanding they adhere to the strict codes once enforced by the group and creating a vexing problem for the Kurdish-led forces controlling the site.

In the teeming al-Hol displacement camp, the true believers have been threatening those they consider impious, brandishing knives, spitting and throwing stones at them, and even burning down their tents. Intelligence officials say Islamic State loyalists also have formed cells inside the camp to mete out punishment in a more systematic way.

The leaders of this movement are women from countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, which have produced some of the Islamic State's most militant followers in recent years, according to officials from the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, the Kurdish-led troops.

While there are scores of instigators, the ranks of those who remain staunchly behind the Islamic State could still number in the thousands, and they are committed to upholding its ideology even as the self-declared caliphate has been brought to an end.

"We hope that the [Islamic] state will come back," said Um Aisha, 22, an Iraqi resident of the camp. "We had sharia law there. Here, there is only corruption."

Covered from head to toe in black, she said she often admonishes other camp residents for failing to dress conservatively or for neglecting their prayers.

In the Islamic State, "they told us what was right and what was wrong. It was better," she said. "Here, people wear whatever they want."

As the U.S.-backed Kurdish troops battled in recent weeks to capture the final Islamic State stronghold in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, thousands of people fled the fighting. The SDF separated the men, sending them to detention centers. Women and children were transported to the al-Hol displacement camp, which has seen its population explode since early December from 9,000 people to more than 73,000.

"What we did is we took Baghouz and we brought it here," said Mahmoud Gadou, a Kurdish official responsible for displaced people in northeast Syria.

The Islamic State once held a vast swath of territory across Syria and Iraq, where militants committed horrific atrocities, including mass executions and sexual slavery. The group also lured recruits from around the world, promising them an Islamic utopia where they could openly practice their faith.

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