A day after their “caliphate” was declared defeated, dozens of ISIS militants emerged from tunnels to surrender to US-backed forces in eastern Syria on Sunday.
Syria’s Kurds warned that despite the demise of the Islamist proto-state, the thousands of foreign militants they have detained are a time-bomb the international community urgently needs to defuse.
An AFP reporter saw dozens of people – mostly men – file out of the battered jihadist encampment in the remote village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border to board pickup trucks.
“They are [ISIS] fighters who came out of tunnels and surrendered today,” Kurdish spokesman Jiaker Amed said. “Some others could still be hiding inside.”
World leaders hailed Saturday’s announcement by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that the last piece of territory controlled by ISIS in Syria had been liberated.
But the top foreign affairs official for the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region warned that ISIS members captured during the assault still posed a threat.
“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Abdel Karim Omar told AFP.
“Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation,” he said.
He also warned of the continuing danger posed by ISIS sleeper cells.
The SDF is continuing to carry out operations to deal with remaining jihadists in the area and locate possible weapons caches.
“This back-clearance operation will be deliberate and thorough and help ensure the long-term security for the area,” the US-led coalition backing the SDF wrote on Twitter.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse