DERIK, Syria — In a dimly lit room the men sit on rows of bunk beds, their legs crossed or extended. Some smoke or read. Others rock rhythmically to and fro, mumbling prayers under their breath. Bright pink blankets stand in stark contrast with the grim atmosphere. A pale, thin man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a wispy beard stares daggers at a reporter who is allowed to peer briefly through a grilled window built into the cell’s iron door. He’s from Dagestan and, like the rest of his fellow prisoners at the Derik Central Prison for Terrorists in northeastern Syria, he was a fighter for the Islamic State.
Al-Monitor is the first Western media outlet to have been granted access to the maximum security detention center. It is run by the Syrian Kurdish administration, which controls a swath of northeastern Syrian territory the size of England that is protected by the US-led coalition battling IS together with the Kurds.