Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Friday that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants held in northeast Syria could escape as a result of a Turkish military operation there, Reuters reported, citing the Interfax news agency.
The Turkish offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in the northeast of Syria opens one of the biggest new fronts in years in an eight-year-old civil war that has drawn in global powers.
Russia emerged as a leading power broker in Syria after it launched a military intervention there in 2015, turning the tide of the war in favor of its ally in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad.
“There are zones located in the north of Syria where Islamic State militants are concentrated. They were guarded until now by Kurdish armed forces. Now the Turkish army is going in, the Kurds are abandoning these camps. They could just escape,” Putin was quoted as saying.
“I’m not sure if the Turkish army can rapidly get this under control,” Putin said, speaking during a visit to Turkmenistan.
A Turkish official told Reuters more than 1,000 ISIL fighters are being held in the swathe of northeast Syria and that Turkish troops are set on capturing, most of them foreign jihadists from Europe and the United States.
“It is estimated that there are approximately 1,200-1,500 Islamic State members in buildings being used as prisons inside the region where Turkey is carrying out its … operation,” one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
“The foreign terrorist fighters will not be released,” the official said. “However, there will also be initiatives to send them back to their countries of origin.”