In the realm of counter-terrorism analysis, Turkey's incursion into northern Syria against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and an impending U.S. troop withdrawal from the SDF-held areas have thrown a spotlight on the SDF-run camps in which tens of thousands of women and children are being held. These women and children, among whom are many foreigners, came from areas that used to be controlled by the Islamic State. If the men of those households survived and surrendered to the SDF, they have generally been taken for questioning on the grounds of affiliation with the Islamic State.
The condition of the women and children in the camps has attracted online attention, with many seeing their plight as imprisonment. In this regard, online campaigns have emerged that aim to support these women and children. One campaign is called Kafel, which is supportive of the Islamic State. Another is called 'Fikku al-Asirat' ('Free the Female Prisoners'), denounced as 'disbelievers' (kuffar) by Kafel.
On 15 October 2019 CE, I conducted an interview with the 'Fikku al-Asirat' campaign to learn more about it and its efforts. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: When was the campaign established and what are its aims?
A: In the name of God we begin. It was established somewhat before the date of this message, meaning at the end of January 2019 CE: i.e. 10 months ago. It aims to free the Muslim women held prisoner in the SDF camps.
Q: Is the campaign affiliated with any side? For example some of the supporters of the Dawla organization [Islamic State] say you are affiliated with Hurras al-Din [an al-Qa'ida-loyalist organization] in Idlib. What is your response to these words?
A: The campaign is completely independent and is not affiliated with or subject to any organizational party. And most of the leaders of it are independent. And we do not reject help for us from the one who is affiliated with some of the groups and we do not reject help for us from some of the groups, provided that does not impact the campaign's independent nature.
Q: How do you help the female prisoners exactly? For example you gather donations to send humanitarian aid to the sisters in the camps?
A: We gather donations to smuggle the sisters from the camps and to help some of the sisters in critical humanitarian conditions (illness, hunger...), and we coordinate with trusted smugglers to smuggle the sisters from the death camps. And we act as an intermediary and guarantor side between the sisters who are well-to-do materially and the smugglers as we secure their wealth with us until their smuggling is complete, and we connect between the sisters and their families on one side and the trusted smugglers on the other and we raise their cause in media, and we offer them all they need from aid until they reach their safe location.
Q: And have you helped the sisters to flee from the camps through smugglers?
A: Yes, and praise be to God.
Q: And the sisters who have fled from the SDF camps have reached the Idlib areas or have gone to Turkey?
A: After the sisters leave the danger zones, every sister has the freedom to go where she wishes.
Q: May I ask how many sisters have been able to flee from the SDF camps thanks to your efforts until now?
A: We do not have exact statistics, for the campaign has gone through periods of weakness and strength, but the number is around (according to what I remember now) 30 sisters and with each sister her children.
Q: Do the current events in northeast Syria from the American withdrawal and Turkey's operations against the SDF help the sisters in the SDF camps?
A: Yes, for most of the sisters have fled from the Ain Issa camp that was heavily guarded, and praise be to God. But the sisters now face great dangers embodied in falling as prisoners in the hands of the militias of the Nusayris [Alawites] and the SDF mercenary gangs who have returned to Bashar's embrace.
And a number of the sisters have been secured and praise be to God. And we are trying to secure the rest.
Some of the sisters have fallen as hostages into the hands of civilians who are devoid of religion, dignity, conscience and humanitarianism. They now extort us and barter with us for our sisters by demanding sums no less than $2000 for each sister in return for merely freeing them in those areas.
The task is difficult and great and needs for the efforts of all the Muslims to come together. Our aim is clear and frank: free the female prisoners. And we welcome all who have participated and help to realize this objective from all sides of the Muslim Ummah in their different approaches and affiliations.
Q: Regarding smuggling, what are the normal prices? For example to smuggle from the camps of east Syria to Idlib and Turkey?
A: The prices the smugglers ask differ from one smuggler to another, and from one camp to another, and from one circumstance to another, and from one time to another, and it differs according to the number of women to be freed in the one contingent, and according to their nationalities.
(Note 15th October 2019 CE): The group offers a clarification to me, saying that it has no relation with smuggling to Turkey.