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Under Islamic State (ISIS) Rule: Story of a 20-year-old Yazidi Mother Khalifa

As Yazidi people we want nothing, need nothing and aspire to no dreams other than the release of our girls

Khalifa, now 22, says she wants nothing more than the rest of her enslaved countrywomen to be freed. She is shown in a village where displaced Yazidi families have settled near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

In the summer of 2014, Khalifa, then a 20-year-old Yazidi mother of one 3-year-old son, was kidnapped by Islamic State militants and sold as a sex slave. In the year that followed she was bought and sold several times, and the following is only one part of the many horrors she endured. She tells her story to VOA in Kurdish, edited for clarity.

When Islamic State (IS) militants entered my town, I fled to my sister-in-law’s house with 14 other people. She and I were both pregnant, but we walked for 45 minutes away from her home, trying to avoid capture. But we were too late. Some friends called us and told us if we don’t come back, IS will kill us. When we got back to her house, we were surrounded and captured.

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[bctt tweet=””I told them I was pregnant, but they didn’t believe me.”” username=””]

The next day militants separated the men and the women, and then transferred the young women to a prison. We stayed a week before we were moved because airstrikes were raining down on the prison. They kept moving us to avoid the airstrikes and finally brought us to an abandoned village. I told them I was pregnant, but they didn’t believe me.

“You are lying,” they said. “You are not even married.”

A few days later I gave birth, and they believed me. But it didn’t matter, I was transferred to Raqqa in Syria with my son and my new baby girl.

Islamic State militants did not believe Khalifa was pregnant until she gave birth to her daughter a few weeks after she was kidnapped. But it didn't matter that she was married; she was sold as a sex slave anyway. Khalifa's daughter is pictured near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Islamic State militants did not believe Khalifa was pregnant until she gave birth to her daughter a few weeks after she was kidnapped. But it didn’t matter that she was married; she was sold as a sex slave anyway. Khalifa’s daughter is pictured near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

In Raqqa, a Saudi IS soldier told me: “I have an eye for you. Someone else more important than me wants you, but I will take you anyway. I will bring you home to Kurdistan.”

I had been in prison, so I didn’t know what the militants were like. I believed him. He also told me if I did not go with him, he would take my son.

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But we didn’t go to Kurdistan. He brought me to Aleppo, where he sold me to another man, an IS Emir I’ll call Mahmoud. I was put in a room upstairs in a house occupied by IS, next to two IS bases, and they decided my name was now going to be Lameya.

“Lameya, look how brave we are,” Mahmoud said, showing me videos of gruesome deaths. “We behead people like they are animals.”

I asked: “What have these people done to deserve being beheaded?”

He continued to show me videos, and when I got upset, he said, “I want to make you brave.”

Deadly holiday

After I had been with him for five months, it was the first day of Newroz, a traditional Kurdish new year’s celebration, and I was in bed. Mahmoud said, “It’s Newroz, Lameya. What do you do on Newroz?”

“Are you Kurdish, and you don’t know what we do?” I replied, confused.

“I’ll show you what we do,” he answered. “Lameya, get up and get your children. I have a surprise for you.”

For a moment, I was happy, looking forward to any small kindness. When I looked out the window and saw 25 people dressed in orange, I thought they were a cleaning crew come to clean the house.

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But then I saw the head IS Emir taking things from their hands. They were identification cards and peshmerga uniforms. Then he opened a book and signed a page. I learned later he was signing that he approved killing the soldiers, and it was right with God.

“In what way do you think we will behead these people, Lameya?” Mahmoud asked me. I was so scared I was shaking. The men were each pushed to their knees by a different IS militant and their heads were covered with black sacks. One by one, they were beheaded by individual militants.

But the last man alive was scared and cried out: “No, please let me live!” I begged the Emir to let this man, just one man, survive. The Emir briefly had mercy.

“I am Haval Mohammad from Kirkuk in Iraq,” the doomed man shouted. He was a Kurdish peshmerga soldier like the rest. “I know I only have a few minutes left of my life. Please tell people what happened here.”

Not long after, they chopped off his head and the bodies were thrown in the dirt, separate from their heads.

“Let the dogs eat them,” the Emir said.

This is nothing

But all this is just something that happened. I have told you almost nothing because my whole story is too long to tell.

Khalifa, after telling VOA about her year in Islamic State captivity, hurries off to visit with friends and family on Nov. 25, 2016, near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Khalifa, after telling VOA about her year in Islamic State captivity, hurries off to visit with friends and family on Nov. 25, 2016, near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq. (H. Murdock/VOA)

The worst part was the force. If any of them wanted me, they would tie my hands and rape me. I was already a prisoner but they always used force. When things weren’t going well for them in battle, they took it out on me.

When IS lost Kobani, I was handcuffed and raped by four men.

When I first got home, after being ransomed by my family with money from the Kurdish government, I was like a dead person. Now I am starting to live, and I am once again Khalifa, and I must speak out. I cannot forget there are still thousands of girls with IS, and this is happening to them every day.

As Yazidi people we want nothing, need nothing and aspire to no dreams other than the release of our girls. (VOA)

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Kerala Police arrest two more ‘Islamic State Recruiters’

Kerala Police arrest two more 'IS recruiters'
Kerala Police arrest two more 'IS recruiters'. IANS

Kannur, October 26: The Kerala Police here on Thursday arrested two Muslim youths who are alleged to be the local recruiters for the Islamic State militant group.

With this, the total number of Islamic State militants arrests has reached five, with three being arrested on Wednesday by the police in Valapatanam.

All five arrested had returned from Turkey not long ago, a police officer said. They hail from Chakarakal and nearby areas of Kannur.

Their detailed interrogation is underway. (IANS)

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Islamic State War Crimes in Iraq being Investigated: UN Team

The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to establish an investigative team to help Iraq secure evidence of atrocities committed by Islamic State militants "that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide

islamic state
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk toward the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate (voa)

Iraq, September 22, 2017: The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to establish an investigative team to help Iraq secure evidence of atrocities committed by Islamic State militants “that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

Britain, which drafted the resolution, said the team would bring some justice to those who had experienced atrocities at the hands of IS, variously known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, called the resolution “a landmark” that would “provide an indispensable record of the scope and scale” of IS atrocities.

“This means justice for those people who have been victimized by ISIS,” Nadia Murad, a former IS captive in Iraq, said in a Facebook Live video after attending the council vote with well-known international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

Yazidi survivor and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human trafficking Nadia Murad, center, visits her village for the first time after being captured and sold as a slave by the Islamic State three years ago, in Kojo, Iraq, (VOA)

Clooney represents women of Iraq’s Yazidi minority who were kidnapped and held as sex slaves by IS militants after the terrorist organization conquered large swaths of Iraq in mid-2014.

“It’s a huge milestone for all of those who’ve been fighting for justice for victims of crimes committed by ISIS,” Clooney said in the Facebook Live video. “It says to victims that their voices will be heard and they may finally get their day in court.”

Since then, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have driven IS from most of the land it had seized in Iraq, retaking all the major urban areas, although the group still controls some pockets in Iraq as well as territory in Syria.

ALSO READ UN Human Rights Chief Urges Iraqi Government to help Victims of Islamic State (ISIS) Sex Abuse

IS fighters have been on the run in Iraq since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the Islamic State’s former stronghold capital, in July.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled the August 2014 massacre in Sinjar, and U.N. rights investigations have documented horrific accounts of abuse suffered by women and girls, such as Murad. About 3,000 women are believed to remain in IS captivity.

But Human Rights Watch criticized the resolution as a missed opportunity by the council “to address war crimes and rights abuses by all sides to the conflict in Iraq.”

“No one denies the importance of tackling the widespread atrocities by ISIS in Iraq, but ignoring abuses by Iraqi and international forces is not only flawed, it’s shortsighted,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The pursuit of justice is essential to all victims who saw their loved ones tortured and killed, or houses burned and bombed, regardless of who is responsible.” (VOA)

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Ground Report: How ISIS is ruining lives of people in Syria and Iraq

For the families in Sarran, the fear of ISIS has now been replaced by the wreckage of a displaced economy left behind by the terrorists.

End of Islamic State rule in Saran
In Sarran, no lives were completely untouched by tragedy at the hands of IS militants Sarran, Syria, Aug. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
  • IS rule in the city of Sarran ended eight months ago 
  • The IS did not murder or behead residents in Sarran, but no lives were completely untouched by tragedy
  • Displaced families from Raqqa currently survive in refugee camps in the area that run short of basic amenities like food, clean water, and medicine

Syria, August 24, 2017: For 100-year-old Tamam Shaheen, the day Islamic State militants took over her village was not particularly memorable.

“One night Free Syrian Army rebels were occupying our village and the next day it just changed,” she said, sitting on the concrete floor of a one-room house with an unlit cigarette in her hand. “All those bearded people were here.”

During their rule over her village, Sarran, has militants ruined the local economy and forced villagers to adhere to dress codes. They tried, unsuccessfully, to enforce a strict no-smoking policy, but none of this impacted Shaheen’s life greatly.

ALSO READ: Civilian Deaths Surge in Raqqa as Islamic State (ISIS) Tactics Slow US-backed Advances

But even the most benign corners of formerly IS-held territory were not spared personal tragedies. Shaheen’s grandson is now imprisoned amid the post-IS chaos, accused of fighting with the militant group.

“Militants ordered me to wear a veil on my face,” she said. “But I rebuked them. I told them ‘It is not your job to tell me what to wear!’”

Authorities holding 22-year-old Abdulrahman now, she said, are not so easy to rebuke.

The arrest

In other parts of IS-controlled Syria and Iraq, IS beat husbands and fathers of women who refused to cover their faces. Locals have been imprisoned or even killed for smoking cigarettes.

Islamic state rule in syria
One-hundred-year-old Tamam Shaheen refuted IS orders to veil her face or quit smoking, but in the wake of IS rule, her grandson is now accused of having fought alongside the group, in Sarran, Syria, Aug. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Militants are now fighting to the death in the nearest large city, Raqqa, 60 kilometers away, but eight months ago in Sarran, IS just left.

Around the same time, Abudulrahman was returning to the village when he was arrested, according to his mother, Wahda Mustafa. The family and neighbors say he is disabled from a car accident and may have accidentally agreed he was guilty of crimes he didn’t commit.

“My son was coming home from Raqqa but the roads were blocked,” said Wahda Mustafa. “They picked him up at a checkpoint, but I don’t know why.”

Stigma after Raqqa flight

During the course of Shaheen’s 100 years, Sarran’s population grew from about four families to roughly 700 people. As IS is slowly being defeated in the region, the village is growing again.

Across a brown field of dust, displaced families from Raqqa crowd into a schoolhouse. Refugee camps in the area are notoriously short of food, clean water and medicine, baking in the desert in the hot summer sun.

Islamic state rule in Syria
Farming comprises the main industry for many Syrian villagers which yields just enough profits for survival. However, high taxes and corruption under IS rule created increased difficulties than extreme ideologies for many rural farmers, near Sarran, Syria, Aug. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

But families say they pay a high price for the small comforts of settling in a village rather than a camp after fleeing IS. The displaced Raqqa residents are noticeably more conservative than the villagers, with the women remaining secluded inside, while local women in colorful dresses cook and smoke cigarettes in public.

Raqqa families are shunned and often presumed to be IS supporters, despite multiple investigations concluding they are innocent, according to Khalid Abdullah, 40, a former oil worker from Raqqa and a father of 11.

“I saw beheadings and hands cut off in the city,” he said under an awning near the school. “It was raining mortars when we ran away. But still, they call my son ‘IS’ when he goes out.”

IS Corruption

The more lasting tragedies touching the lives of the people of Sarran come not from IS extremism, but from ordinary corruption. Before the war, the Syrian government had mandated that wealthy landowners in the area dole out portions of their fields to local farmers.

Islamic state rule in syria
Camps for displaced persons in Syria are short of food, clean water and health care, with some fleeing urban families saying they prefer to face stigma in villages than endure hardship in camps, in Ain Issa, Syria, Aug. 17, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

The farmers survived by working the land and reaping the profits. Under IS, bribes were paid and profits from the land reverted back to the rich, according to Ayman Kalaf, 19, one of Shaheen’s many grandsons.

Surrounded by other farmers, who nodded in agreement as he spoke, Kalaf described how under IS, his poor village became even poorer and families are still struggling to recover.

“Long ago this area was under a feudal system, with all of the valuable farms owned by the rich,” he said. “But modern governments required owners to divide some of their lands among local farmers. When IS came in, they gave the land back to the rich.”

And while their suffering may not be as dramatic or even traumatic as the suffering of families living under siege or hunted and sometimes slaughtered by IS, villagers say they already lived on the edge of survival in the best of times, and they barely made it through their time under IS.

“I have to take care of my house and children, and I work as a farmer,” said Umm Mohammad, a local women’s activist. “We build our own houses with bricks we make from the earth. Life here is hard.” (VOA)