The BBC has uncovered details of a secret deal that let hundreds of Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL/ISIS) S fighters and their families escape from Raqqa, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city. In fact, according to the claims, they have organized their transport alongside the SDF forces.
A convoy included some of ISIS’s most notorious members and – despite reassurances – dozens of foreign fighters. Some of those have spread out across Syria, even making it as far as Turkey. These claims were made in BBC’s report named “Raqqa’s dirty secret“.
“The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared,” the BBC reported.
According to the report, some 250 ISIS fighters were allowed to leave the city, along with 3,500 of their family members that were trapped in Raqqa with them. In local arrangement, lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job.
He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery.
But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north.
The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told.
But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to. Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition, the BBC continued.
“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS, as quoted by the BBC.
“But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,” he added.
The Islamic State fighters reportedly fled to many areas, including Turkey and the Deir Ez-zor Governorate.
The U.S. Coalition had previously criticized the Syrian government and Hezbollah for allowing a smaller convoy ISIS terrorists and civilians to leave the Lebanese border for the Deir Ez-zor Governorate.