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Terrorism

Syria’s al-Hol a ‘breeding ground’ for next generation of ISIS, CENTCOM chief warns

“Many want to contribute to society. Many wish to return to their homelands, to reenter the workforce and return their children to school,” the top US military general for the Middle East said after stopping in the camp.

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The top US military general for the Middle East sounded the alarm on Friday after visiting the al-Hol camp in Syria, saying ISIS was seeking to exploit horrific conditions inside the camp.

The camp is filled with ISIS sympathizers and families, but United States Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. Erik Kurilla said that most camp residents reject ISIS.

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“Many want to contribute to society. Many wish to return to their homelands, to re-enter the workforce and return their children to school,” Kurilla said in a statement after stopping in the camp.

Estimates put the number of residents inside the camp at around 55,000, with over 90 percent being women and children.

But scorching hot weather and a lack of running water, many of the camp’s youth are vulnerable to radicalization due to the poor quality of life, Kurilla said.

“With approximately 80 births in the camp each month, this place is a literal breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS,” the US general said, adding that approximately 70 percent of the population is under 12.

Kurilla said ISIS members were holding women and girls enslaved in chains inside the camp, torturing camp residents, and seeking to spread their vile ideology. “Most of the residents seek to escape ISIS, but ISIS sees the camp as a captive audience for its message and recruitment efforts,” he said.

Repatriate residents

Washington has called upon countries to repatriate nationals from the camp to their respective homelands.

Kurilla reiterated that call, noting that there was no military solution to the threat posed by the camp.

With around half of the residents from Iraq, the country has not done enough to repatriate more people. Kurilla said Baghdad needed to accelerate its progress in bringing back home nationals inside the camp.

“Should Iraq repatriate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate its citizens, the problem would immediately become much more manageable,” he said.

But an overall solution to the catastrophe inside al-Hol requires international cooperation, Kurilla suggested. “To do so requires the global community viewing this problem with empathy.”

Ask for US policy, the CENTCOM chief cited the need for a whole-of-government approach. “I am in dialogue across the US Government to improve security and humanitarian conditions at the camp,” he said.

Read more: US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces move to halt ‘brutal torture’ at ISIS camp

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