Editor’s Note: To wish death rather than captivity, you know things are bad for these women. Forced to marry someone they hate, taken away from their homes, and abused daily, these women are forced into a ‘Sexual Holy War’ by ISIS.
The call came in the early hours, the voice muffled, furtive and shaking with fear. ‘If they see me talking to someone they will kill me for sure, maybe kill all of us.’
This was Nisreen, a 17-year-old seized by the vicious Islamic State forces who have swept through Iraq and Syria spreading fear and panic.
She told how she was one of 96 Yazidi girls kidnapped when their towns and villages fell to the fanatics.
Now these teenagers wait in terror to be sold into slavery or forced into marriage with militant Islamists.
‘I know this exact number because I hear them talking,’ said Nisreen. ‘We are sure they have sold us. We do not fear for our lives but for our dignity as women.’
It was a brave phone call from a desperate woman.
The world has heard the hideous stories of refugees fleeing the jihadists but here, for the first time, was a voice from the other side: from a kidnap victim trapped in IS’s newly-won territory.
The husband of another teenage woman, heavily pregnant, held captive by the IS told me how she would rather the US bombed her prison – with her inside – than be handed out like a piece of property to an extremist fighter.
She said: ‘Let those jets come to bomb us and save us from this situation by killing all of us.’ She added death would be a better fate than to ‘be forced off with a strange man.’
These two extraordinary accounts, together with information gathered from numerous first-hand sources in and around Irbil and Dohuk in the past week, reveal for the first time the appalling reality of life for captives held in IS-held Iraq.
Horrifically, we can reveal:
- A doctor conducts virginity tests to ensure women are ‘pure’ enough for the jihadists.
- lS leaders have sanctioned ‘Jihad al Niqah’, an extreme form of sexual holy war that permits fighters to take any women they want.
- Seized women are being handed as gifts to IS fighters, starved into submission and sold off as slaves, while children are stolen to be raised as Muslims and scores of men face conversion or death.
- lS guards warning captives they will get four chances to convert. Twice they will be asked politely; the third time they will be whipped with a leather strap; if they still refuse at the fourth time of asking, they face death.
- An official with IS’s religious guards confirmed the atrocities.
The detailed evidence comes from captive women talking from their prisons, dozens of desperate families, a leaked United Nations report and activists collating information amid the chaos of Iraqi Kurdistan with 200,000 refugees driven from their homes by militants.
There are also sources I cannot reveal for fear of endangering courageous informants.
Their stories are shocking and strikingly similar, whether from the hostage themselves, husbands talking to captured wives, fathers whose daughters and sons are behind bars, even escaped children who witnessed parents marched off by IS forces under black flags.
In an exclusive interview offering disturbing insight into their cruel zealotry and callous practices, IS prison official Abu Obaida detailed the stark options confronting seized women and girls.
He confirmed forcing children into militant Islam and explained why Christians can pay to flee their clutches, but not Yazidis. He even invited me to go and live under the medieval Caliphate declared by IS.
Thousands were seized when Sinjar, an historic centre for the Yazidi sect, fell a fortnight ago.
Many more fled into nearby mountains, terrified by stories of IS savagery such as beheading and crucifying their enemies, and are now refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The hostages – two thirds of whom are women, according to Yazidi activists – are held in prisons, schools, sports centres, mosques, hospitals and even private homes in areas under IS control.
Nisreen was taken from her home village to Mosul, Iraq’s second city which fell in June, then into Syria for a week. She was bought back by bus to an Iraqi prison for three days, then moved to a location I promised not to reveal from where she made that courageous call.
She is just one among many. As I toured building sites, schools, roadsides and camps crammed with Yazidi refugees last week, I heard story after heartbreaking story.