British woman among hundreds of IS supporters to flee Syrian camp

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy

Syrian Kurdish officials say hundreds of supporters of so-called Islamic State have escaped from a camp for displaced people in north-eastern Syria as Turkish forces advance on the area, setting off clashes.

The camp in Ein Eissa is home to some 12,000 people, including nearly 1,000 foreign women with links to IS and their children.

ITV News understands British woman Tooba Gondal is one of the women who fled the camp, along with her children.

The 25-year-old claims she was radicalised through Twitter but is also accused of recruiting other women to join IS.

She managed to send a message to her family back home to find help, but wrote "I am free", in messages seen by ITV News.

Gondal is one of several British women who was held at the camp, and has pleaded to return home, however the Home Office has ruled she should be "excluded from the United Kingdom on grounds of public security."

Between 850 and 950 women and children are thought to have escaped from the camp after attacking guards and storming the gates.

Last week, Gondal was confronted by Bethany Haines, daughter of murdered British aid worker, David Haines over the death of her father.

"I can only say my apologies to you and that I feel your sorrow," Gondal told her.

"It's not just words, I honestly mean that. I cannot be held responsible in any way, I did not give my allegiance to this."

US President Donald Trump has ordered all US troops to withdraw from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos and move south.

Syria's Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed on Sunday to help them fend off Turkey's invasion, in a major shift in alliances.

But the shift could lead to clashes between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group.

On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria because of the increasing danger of getting caught in the crossfire.

"We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it's a very untenable situation," he said on CBS.

Syrian state television has said troops are moving to the north of the country to confront the ongoing Turkish offensive.

  • ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy reports from Turkey and says that the news of the escape of the supporters of so-called Islamic State will "horrify" governments across the world

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish warplanes struck villages near the camp on Sunday.

It said camp residents fled as clashes broke out between Turkey-backed Syrian fighters and Kurdish forces.

Jelal Ayaf, a senior official at the camp, told local media that a few of those who escaped were recaptured, but others were carrying out attacks.

He described the situation as "very volatile".

The camp is now believed to be under the control of Turkish-backed forces.

ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy is in Turkey. She said an IS flag had reportedly been raised in the camp during the escape.

The town of Ain Eissa is an administrative base for the Kurdish-led forces and is some 20 miles south of the border.

It is also home to one of the largest US-led coalition bases in north-eastern Syria.

The continued push by Turkey into Syria comes days after Donald Trump cleared the way for Turkey’s air and ground offensive, pulling back US forces and saying he wanted to stop getting involved with “endless wars”.

His decision has drawn heavy criticism both in the US and abroad amid accusations the US President was endangering regional stability and risking the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were a key US ally in the war against so-called Islamic State group and drove the extremists from most of the territory they once held in northeastern Syria.

The force swept up thousands of so-called Islamic State fighters and their family members in the campaign.

A Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces member continues their assault on Syrian Kurdish fighters. Credit: AP

Turkey regards the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to the insurgency in its southeast, and has vowed to carve out a "safe zone" along the border.

It also plans to resettle more than three million Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey inside the zone.

Ahead of Turkey's incursion into Syria, the Kurdish forces guarding the tens of thousands of former IS fighters and their families had warned they would not be able to maintain detention facilities while fighting back against the Turkish advance.

ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo said that the fleeing of IS supporters from the camp is not only a "consequence of Turkey's incursion", but also due to foreign countries not taking responsibility for their citizens who are incarcerated there.

Also on Sunday, a US official said the situation in northeast Syria is "deteriorating rapidly" and that American forces were cut off from the Syrian Kurdish fighters they had previously partnered with.

The official said US troops on the ground are at risk of being "isolated" and cannot travel overland without a "high risk" of armed confrontation with Turkey-backed forces.

The US official said a "small group" of American troops withdrew from a base in the town because of the threat posed by Syrian fighters allied with Turkey, but that US forces were still present in larger bases nearby.

They added that US forces and their Kurdish allies no longer control ground lines of communication and have no control over Turkish aircraft overhead.

  • Footage shows explosions in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday ruled out any mediation between Ankara and the "terror group".

Turkey's defence ministry tweeted on Sunday that its forces had taken control of the main road running between Hassakeh, a major town and logistics hub, and Ein Eissa, the administrative centre of the Kurdish-held areas.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters enter Ras al-Yan Credit: AP

The United Nations says more than 130,000 Syrians have fled since Turkey's military offensive began five days ago, including many who had taken refuge from previous rounds of fighting in the country's eight-year civil war.

Fighting was also taking place in the town of Suluk, with both sides claiming to be in control of it.

Smoke could also be seen rising from several points in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the border, as a machine-gun mounted pick-up truck filled with Turkey-backed Syrian fighters drove along the outskirts. In the distance, a flag of the main Kurdish militia could still be seen waving from a tall post.

Turkish troops and their Syrian allies have made steady gains since launching the operation, capturing several northern villages in fighting and bombardment that has killed and wounded dozens of people.

Turkey's Defence Ministry claims that 480 Kurdish fighters have been "neutralised" since Wednesday, but this number could not be independently verified.

Civilians have also reportedly been killed and injured.

The clashes have spilled across the border, with shells fired from Syria hitting the Turkish border towns of Akcakale and Suruc.