- A covoy transporting as many as 4,000 ISIS fighters and their families was allowed to leave Raqqa by the US and its allies
- The deal has been called hypocritical after the coalition had previously slammed "relocating terrorists"
- Fears have also been raised as to the potential global security threat posed by the militants
- Drivers described booby-trapped vehicles and passengers wearing suicide belts
by Rosie Alfatlawi
Thousands of ISIS fighters and their families were allowed to leave Raqqa with the blessing of the U.S.-led coalition and its Kurdish and Arab allies.
That is according to shock new findings by the BBC, which have sparked accusations of hypocrisy against the coalition.
US-backed SDF struck a deal to let hundreds of ISIS fighters escape Raqqa -- shortly after US lampooned Hezbollah for doing the same on Lebanese border. https://t.co/uVf1xFIiYt— DavidKenner (@DavidKenner) November 13, 2017
Only weeks before, in late August, it had condemned a similar Hezbollah and Syrian government agreement transporting 400 ISIS fighters out from the Lebanon border area.
At that point it said: “ISIS is a global threat, relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with, is not a lasting solution.”
Speaking on the Raqqa evacuation, however, the coalition struck a completely different tone.
Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, explained that the move was at "the heart of our strategy."
“We didn’t want anyone to leave but this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations.”
He said that 250 ISIS militants were allowed to leave Raqqa, along with 3,500 of their family members.
According to one account, the convoy even followed a similar route to the Lebanon evacuation, heading to the countryside in eastern Syria, near the Iraq border.
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In October this year, victory had been declared over ISIS in its de facto capital after a four-month siege of the city.
What was not announced at the time was that Raqqa’s liberation was secured on the back of a secret deal that had let hundreds of combatants escape days earlier.
Drivers recruited to transport the fighters told the BBC that the convoy was as long as six or seven kilometers, and included 4,000 people. The trucks were booby-trapped, they said, and ISIS members wore suicide belts.
Among them were key ISIS figures, including head of intelligence for the group, Abu Musab Huthaifa, who was later captured.
Many of the fighters have since headed to Turkey, the report suggests, citing the accounts of border smugglers.
In fact, it has been suggested that such a large number of militants being allowed to roam freely may represent a considerable global security threat.
The report quoted one French fighter who claimed some of the ISIS members who were able to leave Raqqa had traveled to Europe to undertake attacks there.
“There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a ‘day of reckoning,” he said.
Horrendous deal ‘agreed by local partners,’ has allowed thousands of ISIS fighters to leave Raqqa. Those fighters are now free to attack the west or fight elsewhere - Incredible reporting here. https://t.co/UxFRst88S1— David Videcette (@DavidVidecette) November 14, 2017
The deal was arranged by local officials, observed by a coalition representative, and it reportedly specified that only Syrian fighters carrying personal weapons could leave.
However, according to the drivers interviewed, foreign fighters of multiple nationalities were allowed to escape, and they brought with them large amounts of weapons and ammunition.
Secretly filmed footage published by the BBC appears to show fighters packed onto the back of a number of lorries, accompanied by several coaches.
Some even speculated that the report might have far-reaching implications in terms of anti-U.S. sentiment in the region.
Did the US government know that ISIS fighters would be allowed to escape Raqqa? If yes, this is a massive scandal. Far worse than Fast and Furious or Benghazi. https://t.co/rRFR8NyTIm— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) November 14, 2017
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