A Yazidi family recently gathered near a peshmerga checkpoint on the road to Shingal in Iraq, anxiously awaiting a woman who had been rescued from the ISIS in Syria.
As the sun set over northern Iraq, a truck approached and the sobs and cries from the family grew louder. Wahida, 35, stepped out of the truck with her young daughter, who looked frail and stricken in a little pink dress, showing no emotion. Some of her female relatives, overcome with mourning and relief, fell to the ground, while others crowded around Wahida to hug her, bless her and welcome her back to safety after more than two years under the brutal captivity of ISIS.
She is one of nearly 3,000 Yazidis who have been rescued from ISIS territory by a network of Kurdish smugglers, who are funded in part by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) — which has a “director of kidnapping affairs,” Hussein al-Qaidi. He reports directly to the Kurdish prime minister’s office.
Kurdish and Iraqi troops are closing in on ISIS strongholds in Mosul, and United States led coalition forces are targeting Raqqa, in Syria, the armed group’s makeshift capital.
But there are still some 3,500 Yazidi captives in ISIS hands — including, if they are still alive, Wahida’s husband and her two other daughters.
Wahida was captured in Shingal when ISIS besieged it in August 2014. Many Yazidis — an ethnic minority whose ancient religion, neither Muslim nor Christian, is considered a form of devil worship by ISIS — fled to the mountains outside the city, but Wahida was trapped and taken to Raqqa.
She didn’t speak to Yahoo News about her experiences as a captive, but accounts from inside ISIS territory describe what is being called genocide by the United Nations. The men and boys are killed or forced to convert to Islam and separated from the women, who are often tortured, raped and sold to ISIS fighters as sex slaves.
Another woman who escaped from ISIS control, Bahara, sat down with Yahoo News and described her experiences at a slave brothel in Raqqa:
Bahara is older, has a head full of white hair and wears the traditional Yazidi white headscarf. She was held in a house with groups of younger women who were brought in and then chosen, one by one, to be raped by ISIS fighters.
When she was first brought to the brothel house, many younger women began to scream and hold onto her clothes. She clung to a pole, but a guard beat her until she let go. The guard, who observed a curious point of Arab chivalry, then saved her: “I held onto his collar, as some Arabs do,” she said. “He is supposed to provide me protection, when you do that, they have to protect you. He left me alone then.”
Bahara said the guards kept her on the second floor of the house. As each new group of young women was brought in, she saw and heard the screams when ISIS fighters chose new girls to buy. “The girls would tell me their stories, they wanted to commit suicide, they wanted to die, but ISIS would not let them. They would try to cut their wrists.”