BEIRUT – One of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's last audio messages was an appeal for his followers to do everything in their power to free Islamic State detainees and the women being held in jails and camps in northeastern Syria.
With news of the extremist group's leader's death, Kurdish security forces worried about the possibility of attacks or rioting have been tightening security at these facilities, which hold more than 80,000 members and supporters of the militant group, including women and children.
Fear of chaos already was running high over the fate of those detained after this month's Turkish military invasion of northeastern Syria, which ushered in major troop changes in the area about two weeks after al-Baghdadi's message. Kurdish officials said they needed to divert fighters and logistics to the front line to ward off the Turkish offensive. Turkey moved troops into areas along the border, while Syrian border guards were deployed in others.
A shaky cease-fire is in place and an agreement to redeploy Kurdish forces away from the borders.
While news of al-Baghdadi's death had not been announced in the camps on Monday, many of his supporters living in detention facilities and camps in Syria have telephones and they most likely heard the news.
"If our men are in prison, we are the soldiers of the Caliphate," some of the women held in al-Hol, the largest holding camp in northern Syria chanted Monday, according to a security official with the Kurdish-led internal security agency. The official wasn't authorized to talk to journalists and spoke anonymously.
The camp is home to 70,000, most of them women and children including about 11,000 foreigners. More than 10,000 prisoners, including 2,000 foreigners, are in detention facilities in northeastern Syria.
The nighttime raid by U.S. special operations forces was a blow to the militant group that became a global organization under his leadership. His demise only few months after losing the group's territorial hold ushers in a new phase for IS amid uncertainty over the new leadership as thousands of its supporters and members languish in prisons.