January 25, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9737

Following ISIS Prison Break In Eastern Syria, Supporters Urge Locals To Assist Escaped Prisoners, Distribute Sweets To Celebrate, Declare More Attacks To Free Prisoners Will Follow

January 25, 2022
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 9737

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here. 

On the evening of January 20, 2022, Islamic State (ISIS) fighters broke into the Al-Sina'ah central prison in the Ghuwayran neighborhood of Al-Hasakah city in northeastern Syria, which is operated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). An estimated 3,500 ISIS members were incarcerated in the prison, making it the only prison in the world housing such a large number of captured ISIS operatives.

ISIS's official A'maq News Agency published a claim on January 21 acknowledging that the organization's fighters had launched a "massive attack" on the Ghuwayran prison "with the aim of freeing the prisoners within."[1] After midnight on January 23, 2022, A'maq published an update, dated January 22, claiming that more than 200 SDF members, including the administrator of the prison and several field commanders, had been killed in clashes at the prison and in the surrounding areas, and that ISIS fighters had succeeded in freeing more than 800 prisoners, many of whom left the prison in several batches on January 20-21. A'maq reported that that the assault on the prison began with a double suicide bombing at the prison's main gate and added that several groups of ISIS fighters were engaged in clashes against SDF and U.S. forces both inside and outside the prison.[2]

A'maq also released several video clips on January 23, one of which showed four armed ISIS fighters standing guard over dozens of prison personnel who were being held hostage, declaring that ISIS fighters had fulfilled their promise to liberate the Ghuwayran prison and had vowed to fight to the death, and urging ISIS sympathizers living near the prison to harbor and assist escaped prisoners. Another video clip released later that day showed Kurdish hostages pleading with the SDF to comply with the attackers' demands so they can be released. Another video clip showed dozens of ISIS fighters inside the prison, many of them wearing red headbands indicating their readiness to fight to the death, reciting the bay'ah (oath) and pledging to fight until they attain victory or die in the attempt.

As of January 24, 2022, it appears that ISIS fighters still control part of the prison, while others remain at large. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), some dormitories inside the prison remain in the control of ISIS fighters, and ISIS operatives have issued threats, using the prison's loudspeakers, saying they will kill the hostages if their demands are not met. The SDF has besieged the prison and some prisoners have not received food and water in over 72 hours. Among these prisoners are about 700 "lions cubs of the caliphate," some as young as twelve years old. The SDF has also imposed a complete internal and external curfew in Al-Hasakah city to prevent ISIS cells from infiltrating the town.[3] According to SOHR, 136 people have been killed since the beginning of the attack on the prison: 84 ISIS fighters; 45 members of SDF security forces, prison guards, and counterterrorism forces; and seven civilians.[4] It should also be noted that according to Sabereen News, a Telegram channel affiliated with Iran-backed Shi'ite militias in Iraq, the SDF managed to recapture 89 escaped "terrorists" near the Iraqi border and has killed five of them, including a Chinese national.

Since the first reports of clashes at the Ghuwayran prison, even before ISIS's official media acknowledged the operation, ISIS supporters have been celebrating the news, encouraging those in the area to harbor and assist escaped prisoners, and engaging in "media jihad" by posting clips of the prison break on social media.

Since the publication of official ISIS media content discussing the prison break, supporters' reactions have largely followed the main topics featured in the A'maq claims and video clips. Hundreds of posts were published by supporters on Telegram, Rocket.Chat, Twitter, and other social media platforms, while dozens of posters and at least two video clips were published by unofficial pro-ISIS media groups.

The following report will survey a selection of these reactions:

Calls To Supporters: Harbor Escaped Fighters, Join The Mujahideen, Distribute Videos Of The Attack, Pray

Taking their cue from the message delivered by an ISIS fighter inside the prison, featured in a video released by A'maq on January 23, many ISIS supporters immediately amplified the call to those in the vicinity of Al-Hasakah to provide material assistance to escaped fighters.

As early as January 22, a pro-ISIS Telegram channel urged "all the supporters and Muslims who live in the environs of the Ghuwayran prison" to "work hard to conceal his brothers and provide safe refuges to take them out of the area of the confrontations towards safe areas," adding: "Everyone should try according to his ability."

The same channel posted a "call to arms" on the same day, stating: "Is it not enough for you that the lions of Baghouz [the last ISIS stronghold in Syria] are themselves those who lead the battles and record epic battles. They have remained steadfast on the day of adversity and released themselves from captivity – by Allah's grace – so participate in supporting them and break the siege that is upon them." The channel offered practical tips for supporters to help the escaped prisoners: "Set fires and mayhem everywhere and defend your brothers."

Another pro-ISIS channel issued a similar call to locals: "By Allah, shelter the mujahideen, investigate their condition, and provide for their needs – I do not think you are ignorant of them, as they are your countrymen – and do not neglect setting fires to the possessions, crops, and houses of the apostates and spies and their employees and cast terror in their hearts."

An ISIS supporter issued a call for Muslims in eastern Syria to join ISIS, addressing "our brothers the Muslims in general, and particularly in the areas of the atheists [i.e. the Kurdish SDF]." Reminding supporters that they used to watch ISIS videos and read reports of ISIS operations and "ask Allah to arrange the means for you to be with them, join them, and carry out actions [as they do]," he declared: "Behold, your prayer has been answered - by Allah's grace – the means have been prepared, and the opportunity has come to you, so do not waste it." In another Telegram post, the ISIS supporter asked supporters in SDF-controlled areas: "Why have you still not gone forth, lightly and heavily armed, to defend your brothers in Ghuwayran?" Addressing those whom "jihad has knocked on their door in those areas but refused, [preferring to] stay behind out of fear and terror," the channel warned that Allah will call such people to task for refraining from jihad.

Another supporter also urged supporters in Syria, particularly in SDF-controlled areas, to join ISIS, writing: "The day has come when you have become obligated to confirm your words with deeds. The legions of the Caliphate have reached every inch of the atheists' areas in Al-Barakah [Al-Hasakah], Al-Khayr [Deir Al-Zour], and Raqqa, and will soon extend to Al-Bukamal – Allah willing – so you no longer have an excuse." The ISIS supporter urged residents of eastern Syria: "Answer the call, roll up your sleeves, bare your teeth,  join the caravan of the mujahideen, and defend your brothers in Ghuwayran and its surroundings." He continued: "By Allah, you are in a land which you are envied for being in. Other monotheists who dwell far away from you wish they could be in your place with you." He then warned: "Do not be like the one who lived in the land of the Caliphate, and [Allah's] guidance knocked at his door, but he rejected it and was obstinate and arrogant, thereby losing this world and the Hereafter."

A pro-ISIS Telegram channel similarly urged supporters in Syria to "repent" from their previous reluctance to join ISIS by doing so now, telling them: "Martyrdom has come to the gate of your house [...] Increase the ranks of the monotheists." The Telegram post continued: "You who have wronged yourself, oh hesitant one, oh sinner, the gate of repentance has come to you. Salvation has come to you, by the Lord of the Ka'bah. If you do not seize [the opportunity] today, you will lose the Hereafter. [...] The epic battles are being recorded and he who has not written a line in them is bankrupt."

A user of the ISIS-operated Rocket.Chat server noted that the SDF had provided a WhatsApp number for locals to contact to provide information on escaped ISIS members. He urged supporters to submit misleading messages, "so that their eyes are directed to mortadin [apostates] like them." The Rocket.Chat user suggested several messages supporters might sent to the WhatsApp number, which claim that the ISIS fighters have escaped the Al-Hasakah area and have been transported by smugglers towards Ra's Al-'Ayn on the Turkish border.

Other posts on Telegram and Rocket.Chat urged fellow supporters to amplify the official ISIS reports of the prison break by posting the A'maq video clips on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where members of the general public, who do not support ISIS, will see them. On January 22, a Rocket.Chat user wrote: "A message to all dear supporters: Head to the social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook [...] and spread the tidings there. Enrage the unbelievers [...] By Allah, defend your brothers and your State. Trust in Allah and go outside of Telegram[...]" The Rocket.Chat user also urged supporters to pray for the fighters inside the prison and those who had escaped: "Do not forget – oh best supporters of the best State – to pray for your brothers on the ground. We ask Allah to grant a conclusion of victory to His servants, the monotheists in Syria's Al-Barakah [Al-Hasakah]."

After the publication of the A'maq clips showing scenes of ISIS fighters inside the prison and featuring hostages pleading for the SDF to arrange their release, supporters urged each other to post these clips on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. A pro-ISIS Telegram channel called on supporters to "leave Telegram now and spread out on social media platforms to post the A'maq clips." Another Telegram channel declared that: "The first and most important task of supporters now" is to post the A'maq clip in which SDF hostages beg their commanders and tribes to arrange their release on various social media platforms.

Celebrations in Various Countries

ISIS supporters have also posted photos showing notes of celebration and sweets being distributed in honor of the prison break in various countries. These locations include Idlib and Aleppo in Syria; Nineveh, Iraq; Gaza and Jerusalem; Egypt; Saudi Arabia; Jordan; Morocco; Algeria; Oman; and "North Sudan," as well as Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and even Ethiopia and Belgium.

Notes of celebration from Pakistan (Source: Telegram, January 23, 2022)

Notes of celebration sent from various countries (Source: Telegram, January 23, 2022)

A supporter from "the province of North Sudan" sent a message: "We congratulate this great victory of yours. We ask Allah to give you power [to cut off] the heads of the Kurdish atheists and those who support them."

A message sent from Nineveh governorate in northern Iraq congratulated ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi, adding: "May Allah bless the minds which planned and the arms which implemented."

Another supporter sent a photo of a note being held in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, addressed to "our brothers, the lions." The note stated: "Today, the prisoners of Ghuwayran and tomorrow – Allah willing – all Muslim prisoners. Carry on with Allah's strength and power. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is waiting for you."

A photo sent from Gaza showed a tray of sweets, along with a note reading: "To rejoice over the release of our brothers the monotheists from the prisons of the atheist Kurds."

Posters By Pro-ISIS Media: ISIS Fulfilled Its Promise To Free Prisoners, This Operation Will Be The First Of Many

Semi-official pro-ISIS media groups have released dozens of posters celebrating the prison break, using hashtags such as #DemolishingTheWalls, #TheEpicBattleOfGhuwayran, and #ContinueYourIncitement. One media foundation released at least 12 posters, while another media foundation released at least 10, and two other foundations released at least two each.

Following is a selection of these posters:

On January 23, 2022, a media foundation released an infographic poster titled "Results of the Storming of Ghuwayran Prison," based on the report by A'maq. The poster gave the number of SDF operatives killed in the operation as more than 200, the number of prisoners released as over 800, the number of SDF vehicles burned as 25, and the number captured as four, and quoted slain ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani: "No negotiations, no bargaining, no flattery, steadfastness and not retreat, war without leniency."

Another poster from that media foundation, titled "Demolishing the Walls: The Epic Battle of Ghuwayran," showed an armed ISIS fighter standing in front of SDF hostages inside the prison, quoting his words, which were featured in an A'maq video. The ISIS fighter declared that ISIS had fulfilled its promise to free prisoners and had done so only through armed jihad, noted that the freed fighters had vowed to fight to the death, and urged locals to help escaped prisoners and shelter them.

Another poster, titled "And the Islamic State Remains, Allah Willing," quoted the U.S. State Department statement about the prison break:[5] "This attack highlights the importance of, and the need to fully fund, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS's initiatives [...] The United States remains committed to the enduring global defeat of ISIS, working by, with, and through the Coalition and our local partners. [... ISIS] continues its attempts to destabilize the region."

Other posters from the media foundation featured quotes from slain ISIS spokesmen Al-'Adnani and Abu Al-Hasan Al-Muhajir, slain ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and current ISIS spokesman Abu Hamzah Al-Qurashi, in which they vowed to free imprisoned fighters, declared that ISIS will continue its jihad, and asserted that the organization's enemies are weakened by their ongoing struggle with ISIS.

A poster released on January 21 by a different media foundation, titled "Demolishing the Walls of Ghuwayran," declared: "Responding to Allah's command and to the call of the commanders in the Islamic State to free prisoners, the soldiers of the Islamic State rushed to fulfill what they had vowed to Allah [...] The battle continues. Pray, pray, oh supporters of monotheism. Pray, as you are convinced of the victory and success that will delight the hearts of the believers."

Another poster by the media foundation, released on January 22, was titled "The Spark Has Caught Fire and Will Not be Extinguished, Allah Willing." The poster's text declared: "The spark has caught fire on the blessed soil of Syria and will not be extinguished, Allah willing. Its flame will increase until it opens the camps and frees the chaste women prisoners, Allah willing. Here we call to every monotheist and zealot in Al-Barakah and Al-Khayr [Al-Hasakah and Deir Al-Zour] and every location near the land of the epic battle: We adjure you and call you to arms to support Allah, his Prophet, and the believers. [...] Ignite the earth under the enemies' feet, divert their attention from them, and open many battlefronts against them. Scatter them and terrorize them [...]"

Another poster from the same media foundation, titled "Demolishing the Walls," stated: "The heroes are still at their positions, attacking the enemies of Allah. So rejoice at the good tidings, for the stage of demolishing the walls has begun – Allah willing – and it will not end until the thrones of all the taghouts [literally false deities, referring to rulers who govern by manmade law] are blasted– Allah willing –Allah's rule is established on Earth, and all worship is of Allah [...]"

A poster depicting ISIS fighters wearing red headbands attacking prison guards was titled "Now, Now has Come [the Time] for Warfare." The text read: "The battles on the ground have begun. The soldiers of the Caliphate [...] have enraged every hypocrite and unbeliever. Now the necks of the unbelievers are cut by the blades of swords. Now, now – Allah willing – the imprisoned knights will return to the battlefields. This is only a drop [that is part] of a downpour, for what is coming to the unbelievers in every land will be more devastating, painful, and worse."

A poster titled "They Raid and Roam" depicted imprisoned ISIS fighters in the Ghuwayran prison before the prison break, along with armed ISIS fighters holding SDF members hostage in the same prison. The text read: "There is no doubt that Allah will fulfill His promise and grant victory to His soldiers [...] With determination that blunts steel, the lions and masters, the Caliphate soldiers, build new citadels of honor and glory [...] We ask Allah to help them accomplish their goal so that they bring joy and happiness to wounded hearts [...]"

A poster from the same media foundation, released on January 23, titled "Qualitative Operations," showed three SDF hostages held inside the prison, along with the text: "When Allah's lions of the Islamic State strike, there is no doubt that their strike is painful, bloodies their enemy, and severely harms him, for their operations are qualitative and well-planned. There is no doubt that the coming days are days of goodness and blessing [a play on ISIS's names for the Deir Al-Zour and Al-Hasakah governorates – Al-Khayr and Al-Barakah.] The soldiers of the Caliphate achieve their victories by Allah's grace, while the enemy is confused [...] The soldiers of the Caliphate insist on implementing what they ventured forth to implement. This is their way. So [attack] the prisons, the prisons! Free your brothers and sisters and act earnestly to achieve your goal [...]"

A poster titled "We have not Forgotten You" depicted an armed ISIS fighter inside the Ghuwayran prison, as well as other ISIS fighters who carried out earlier operations in Afghanistan. The poster's text noted that "not long has passed since the Kabul prison raid[6] before  the attacks of the Caliphate soldiers resumed to free prisoners in Syria," adding that through the Ghuwayran prison break, ISIS fighters "send their message to the remaining prisoners and detainees, saying: We have not forgotten you and we will never forget you."

One poster released by a different media foundation on January 23 quoted ISIS spokesman Abu Hamzah Al-Qurashi, declaring that ISIS has not forgotten its imprisoned fighters and is working to liberate them. A second poster from this media foundation depicted ISIS fighters scaling a fence topped with barbed wire, and with the text: "The Lions of Baghouz Break the Chains of their Brothers, the Prisoners."

On January 24, a poster by another media foundation, titled "Certainty and the Prisoner," depicted imprisoned ISIS fighters in Ghuwayran before and after their liberation. The text read: "The certainty that accompanies the believer lets him see the outcome of his patience, just as his eyes see what is before him [...] As an eye closes and opens again, Allah replaces one state with another."

Another poster from this media foundation, titled "To the Tribal Sheikhs," depicted the faces of some of the SDF hostages, who pleaded with their tribal leaders and SDF leadership to comply with the demands of the ISIS fighters so that they are released. The text addressed these tribal leaders: "The fate of your sons is in your hands. Accede to the demands of the mujahideen in Ghuwayran, or else, what has happened the ilk of your sons will happen to your sons, too."


[3], January 23, 2022.

[4], January 23, 2022.

[5], January 22, 2022.

[6] This presumably refers to the August 2021 release of prisoners from the Pul-e-Charkhi prison near Kabul, in which many imprisoned ISIS fighters gained their freedom. The poster neglects to mention that it was ISIS's rival, the Afghan Taliban, which was responsible for the Pul-e-Charkhi prison break. See MEMRI JTTM Report: Syrian Jihadis, Al-Qaeda Supporters Celebrate Afghan Taliban's Takeovers Of Prisons And Presidential Palace, Compare Evacuation Of U.S. Embassy In Kabul To Exit From Vietnam, August 16, 2021.

Share this Report: