ISIS prisoner kept as sex slave describes her dangerous struggle for freedom
Lamiya Aji Bashar tried to escape her tormentors four times. After each attempt failed, her Islamic State group captors beat her and abused her even more. On the fifth attempt, in March, the young Yazidi woman who was kept as a sex slave by IS militants in Iraq and Syria thought she had finally made it to freedom.
But as she and two other Yazidi girls escaping with her neared Kurdish front lines in northern Iraq, one of them stepped on a land mine. The explosion killed the other two, whom Bashar only knew as 20-year-old Katherine and 8-year-old Almas. The guide who was smuggling them out saved her and brought her to Kurdish forces, she said.
Bashar lost her right eye in the blast, her face was left covered in scars and her damaged left eye needs treatment to save what’s left of her sight.
But the defiant 18-year-old sees it as a victory over the men who abused her.
“The main thing is that I survived,” she told The Associated Press, sitting on a bed in her uncle Idris Bashar’s home in the northern Iraqi town of Baadre.
“I managed in the end, thanks to God, I managed to get away from those infidels,” she added.
Bashar’s whole family was abducted on August 15, 2014, from their home in the village of Kocho near the town of Sinjar, a Yazidi enclave in Iraq that fell to IS when the Sunni extremist group overran large swaths of the country’s north and west that summer.
She said IS militants separated and took them to different places. Bashar doesn’t know what happened to her parents, who are presumed dead. Her 9-year-old sister Mayada remains a captive of the IS group somewhere in the self-styled caliphate the extremists proclaimed on territory they control in Syria and Iraq.
Her five other sisters all managed to escape before her and were later relocated to Germany. A younger brother, kept for months in an IS training camp in Raqqa, also slipped away before her and is now staying with other relatives in Dohuk, a town in the Iraqi Kurdish region.
The horror of the 19 months Bashar spent as a sex slave with IS extremists left her deeply traumatized, but she came through the ordeal determined to tell her story. The AP doesn’t normally identify victims of sexual abuse, but Bashar told the AP she wanted to tell her story openly and be identified by name.
She is just one of hundreds of women from the minority Yazidi community in Iraq who were taken captive and conscripted into sexual slavery by the IS group, which also massacred thousands of Yazidis.
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The Sunni extremists view the Yazidis, who follow an ancient Mesopotamian religion related to Zoroastrianism, as pagans or devil-worshippers. Their estimated pre-war population in Iraq was around 500,000.
Bashar recounts in an almost mechanical manner how she was passed on from one IS group follower to another, all of whom beat and violated her.
Yet, all through her suffering, she held on with stubborn determination to the hope that she would escape.
She says her first “owner” was an Iraqi IS group commander in the city of Raqqa, the de-facto IS group capital deep in Syria, by the name of Abu Mansour. He brutalized and beat her, often keeping her handcuffed.
She tried to run away twice but was caught, beaten and abused more. After a month, she was sold to another IS group man in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After she spent two months with him, she was sold again, this time to an IS group bomb-maker who Bashar said forced her to help him make suicide vests and car bombs.
“I tried to escape from him, too,” she said. “And he captured me too and he beat me.”
When the bomb-maker grew bored with her, she was handed over to an IS group doctor in Hawija, a small Iraqi town also considered an IS group stronghold that is only 55 kilometres from the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk. She said the doctor, who was the IS group head of the town hospital, also abused her.
From there, after more than a year, she managed to contact her relatives in secret. Her uncle said the family paid local smugglers 800 US dollars to arrange Bashar’s escape.
According to Kurdish local government figures, 2,554 Yazidi men and women have been rescued from IS group captivity with the help of paid smugglers. Over 3,000 are thought to remain in captivity, almost all of them women – and that’s despite the Islamic State group’s recent territorial losses to Kurdish and Iraqi troops, aided by US-led coalition airstrikes.
When she finally escaped in March, Bashar says she and other two girls walked all night until the smugglers brought them close to the front-line town of Makhmour. They had just a few kilometres left to go when the land mine went off.
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She remembers little except for the explosion. The Kurdish peshmerga troops brought her to a hospital where her uncle came for her.
Her uncle’s home in Baadre overlooks the plain of Ninevah province, much of it still held by the IS group. Some 15 kilometres away fighting is still underway and thick columns of smoke can be glimpsed rising in the distance. She is waiting for a medical visa to go to Germany for specialized treatment for her eye, unavailable in Iraq.
So far, 1,100 Yazidi women and children have been taken in by the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg after lobbying by the Iraqi Kurdish regional government and non-governmental organisations.
“The usual situation of all the victims, girls or children or women, they are deeply traumatised, they have signs of PTSD,” said Mirza Danai, founder of the aid organization Luftbrucke Irak, who helped arrange the resettlement deal with the Baden-Wurttemberg government.
The areas of northern Iraq where most Yazidis used to live are still contested by Kurdish forces and the IS group, with most displaced Yazidis stuck in camps in Iraqi Kurdish territory.
Bashar worries about Mayada, her little sister. There has been little contact with her, except for a photo she managed to send to their uncle, showing the 9-year-old standing in front of an IS group flag.
Danai said rescuing the remaining captive Yazidi women is getting more difficult as the militants move them deeper inside the area the group controls.
“Daesh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group) established a bureaucratic system to register all slaves like normal property. They register every slave, every person under their owner, and therefore if she escapes every Daesh control or checkpoint, or security force – they know that this girl or this girl with this name has escaped from this owner,” said Danai.
Despite everything that happened to her, Bashar wants to come back after Germany – her heart is in Iraq and the life she once had.
© 2016 The Associated Press