Editor’s Note: ISIS militants killed village member after their leader stood up for his faith and refused to convert to Islam.
When Islamic State militants stormed into a northern Iraqi village and ordered everyone to convert to Islam or die only one person refused. But that did not satisfy the Sunni insurgents who are even more hardline than al Qaeda.
The militants, who have seized much of northern Iraq since arriving from Syria in June, wasted no time after the village’s leader, or sheikh, stood up for his ancient Yazidi faith.
Khalof Khodede, an unemployed father of three who escaped with his life, recalled how 80 men in the village of Kocho were killed and all the women and girls were kidnapped.
His account, one of the first eyewitness reports of last Friday’s killings, could not be independently verified but other Yazidis and Iraqi officials have given details of Islamic State’s attack on the village.
‘First they wanted us all to convert to Islam and we said yes just to save our lives. We were all very afraid,’ said Khodede from a hospital bed in the town of Dohuk in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Dohuk is now home to thousands of refugees from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community which has paid the heaviest price for Islamic State’s ambition to redraw the map of the Middle East.
‘Then our sheikh said ‘I won’t convert to Islam’. And then they gathered us inside the village school,’ he said.
The men were taken to the first floor and the women to the second after the villagers’ money and gold jewellery were seized, probably to fund the group made up of Iraqis and other Arabs as well as foreign fighters.
Then the Yazidis were loaded onto minibuses in groups of 10 to 20 and transported outside the village after being told they would be taken to Sinjar, the ancient homeland of the sect.
The vehicles stopped abruptly and the militants opened fire without warning. ‘They started shooting at us randomly. They had heavy guns like machine guns. I was hit in my leg and on my pelvis,’ said Khodede, showing where he had been wounded.
The Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism who are part of Iraq’s Kurdish community, are not strangers to oppression.
Many of their villages were destroyed when Saddam Hussein’s troops tried to crush the Kurds. Some were taken away by the executed former dictator’s intelligence agents.