Innocent women enslaved by the IS

DOHUK, IRAK. Hundreds of women and children were taken captive by the Islamic State during the Mount Sinjar massacre in August.

Most of them are still being held captive by the extremist movement.

Those who have escaped speak of forced marriages, slavery and rape.

Expressen’s Terese Cristiansson and Martin von Krogh have followed three Yazidi families searching for their wives, daughters and sisters.


Translation: Louise Sverud

Photographer Martin von Krogh and reporter Terese Cristiansson

2. Eight women tell their story

Amina and her family were on their way up Mount Sinjar when the IS attacked them. They took her, her mother and her four siblings.

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“They separated me from the others because I was unmarried. Then we were held hostage by two men,” says Amina.

During captivity she managed to stay in contact with her father and while the guards were away they decided to escape.

“We ran in the dark, but then we heard that they were behind us. I called my father and asked him what we should do.”

He told them to hide in a big hole. Several hours later he arrived there too. The IS were not far away. He decided to take a risk and ran desperately towards the hole. The IS started shooting, but a friend who was hiding on the mountain fired back at them.

“When my father arrived we ran as fast as we could. They were shooting behind us but we managed to get to the mountain,” says Amina.

When the IS attacked Basima’s house they killed the men and kidnapped all the women and children.

“I was only allowed to bring one child, I had to leave the others behind,” says Basima.

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They were moved several times over the next few weeks, to different locations in Iraq, mostly around Mosul. For a while they were held in a large wedding hall, then they were taken to a house in an area between Sinjar and Mosul.

“They gave us the holy Koran and told us to read it and convert to Islam. We did, because we were so scared. Anyone who refused was taken somewhere else or killed.”

Basima was never sexually abused.

“They didn’t take any of us who had children or the pregnant women, but all the unmarried women were taken away. Some of the girls that came back told us they had been raped. But my children saved me.”

Soosan was captured in her house, along with several other women. She was held hostage by the IS for 2 1/2 months.

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“They weren’t from around here because they kept asking where things were. But they were dark, not European.”

Soosan also pretended to convert.

“We wore scarves and Muslim clothes to fool them. They told us to pray, but didn’t check that we did.”

One night she and six other women managed to leave the house and run to a checkpoint, where they were helped by a man from the village.

“We were lucky, but a lot of my family are stuck there so we’re still worried,” says Soosan.

“First they separated the young from the pregnant and the old women. Then they took us singles to Mosul and separated the pretty girls from the ugly ones,” says Yana.

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Yana says that they never touched her, but that one of the other girls was taken outside during the nights and raped.

“I was afraid they would rape me too. So I made a plan to escape. I was lucky and met a kind taxi driver who helped me,” says Yana.

Shanaz and Sharez tried to hide upstairs when they saw the IS assemble all the men from the familly outside in the yard. First they made everyone put all their money and papers onto a large blanket. Then they lined up the men and killed them.

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“They then took seven of us women. They said that they’d saved us from the fire we were living in. And that we had to convert. Otherwise they’d sell us to Saudi Arabia,” says Sharez.

They were locked in a house outside Mosul for several weeks.

“They tried to force themselves on us several times, but I pushed them away. I would rather die,” says Shanaz.

Eventually they managed to steal a SIM card.

“So we could call home and they helped us escape,” says Shanaz.

Zainab tells us that she was kidnapped with her family, but that she and Ayan were separated from them after a few days.

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“They beat us until we said that we’d become Muslims. That was all they talked about. We tried to get out but the door was locked with several locks,” says Zainab.

Ayan too tells us they were beaten several times when they didn’t do what the IS soldiers told them to. But most of all they were scared of a forced marriage. They would rather have killed themselves.

“We eventually managed to escape while the door was open and run to a house. They agreed to help us, once our father had promised to pay them,” says Ayna.

Yazidis

Yazidism is an ancient religion with approximately 800,000 followers, many of them in the Kurdish areas of Iraq.

Their religion is a combination of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, and this minority group often lives isolated from the rest of society. Some of the clans still live by strict rules, for example, it is forbidden to marry outside the group, eat salad or wear blue.

In other groups these rules have been relaxed.

The Yazidis were heavily attacked by the IS in August, when the extremist group took the Sinjar area. The UN is calling it attempted genocide.

The Islamic State

Also known as ISIS and ISIL but they call themselves IS, the Islamic State.

Their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a Sunni Muslim who was previously held prisoner by American troops, named the movement in 2014.

He and his followers are a breakaway faction of al-Qaeda in Iraq and are believed to consist mostly of Sunni Muslims. They are estimated to have somewhere in the region of 10,000-20,000 soldiers.

Al-Qaeda is a major threat to the western world, but the IS still has an ongoing issue with them as they want a Caliphate; a state ruled by strict Sharia laws and al-Qaeda finds the leader, Baghdadi, too radical.

The IS has successfully occupied large areas of both Iraq and Syria. They received a lot of attention when they gained control of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, where they seized weapons that the Iraqi army had received from the US, giving them a very powerful and mobile warfare.

Several countries, including the US and France, have carried out air strikes together with the Iraqi army, but the IS continues to occupy large areas.