A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Interesting and somewhat dispiriting, given the mixed results of the program, long read:

When Hanan escaped from Islamic State captivity, there wasn’t much to come back to.

She and her five children had survived a year in a living nightmare. After her husband finally managed to arrange their rescue in the summer of 2015, they joined him in a dusty camp in Iraq where he lived in a tent. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controlled the territory they called home, and they were unsure if they could ever go back. And Hanan was unsure if she could ever escape the darkness she felt inside.

So when, in the fall of 2015, Germany offered her the promise of safety and a chance to heal from her trauma, it wasn’t a difficult decision. Accepting a place in a groundbreaking program for women and children survivors of ISIS captivity did mean leaving her husband behind in the camp, but she was told he could join her after two years. So she and her children boarded the first flight of their lives, out of Iraq and away from their tight-knit community, in search of safety and treatment for what still haunted them.

Hanan, now 34, was one of 1,100 women and children brought to Germany in an unprecedented effort to aid those most affected by ISIS’s systematic campaign to kill and enslave the ancient Yazidi religious minority. (TIME is identifying Hanan by her first name only for her safety.) Launched by the German state of Baden Württemberg in October 2014, the program aimed to help survivors of captivity receive much-needed mental-health treatment and support. In Iraq, there had been a rash of suicides among the heavily-traumatized survivors, who had minimal access to mental-health care and faced an uncertain future. In Germany, far from the site of their suffering, state officials hoped the women and children could find healing and a fresh start.

But for Hanan, those promises remain unfulfilled. German officials never granted visas to any of the women’s husbands, leaving families, including Hanan’s, indefinitely torn apart. Like most of the women, she’s not undergoing promised trauma therapy. She often thinks about killing herself. The only thing stopping her, she says, is her children.

Not all the women are desperate. Some are thriving in Germany, and others have become global advocates for their community, like 2018 Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad. She is the most prominent face of a program that was so ambitious and well-intentioned it inspired other countries, like Canada and France, to follow suit. But Hanan’s experience illustrates how parts of the program failed to live up to their full potential, and shows how difficult it is for refugees to gain access to mental health services, even in a program designed for just that. Michael Blume, the state official who led the program, sees it as a “great success” overall. But he is troubled by the state’s failure to bring the women’s husbands to Germany. “A great humanitarian program should not be sabotaged by bureaucracy,” he says. “But that’s what is taking place.”

Before she left Iraq, Hanan said she was given a piece of paper with information about what awaited her in Germany. “I wish I could find that paper now,” she says, “because the promises they gave us, they didn’t keep all of them.”

By the time ISIS swept across Sinjar, the area in northwest Iraq that is home to most of the world’s Yazidis, Hanan had already endured more than her share of hardship. Her parents were murdered in front of her when she was six. She and her two siblings went to live with their grandfather and his wife, where they were beaten, starved, and forced to work instead of going to school. Her baby sister died soon after.

In her early twenties, she escaped the torturous conditions at home by marrying Hadi. It was the first good fortune of her life, she says; they loved each other. Over the course of about seven years, they had four daughters and then a son, who was just a few months old in August 2014, when ISIS captured Sinjar and unleashed its systematic campaign to wipe out the Yazidis.

In conquered Yazidi towns, fighters executed the men and elderly women. Boys were sent off for indoctrination and forced military training. Women and girls weresold into slavery, traded among fighters like property and repeatedly raped. Hanan and her children were among more than 6,000 people kidnapped. Hadi, who was working as a laborer in a city beyond the reach of ISIS when their village was captured, was frantic when he learned his family was gone.

Within days, President Barack Obama launched U.S. airstrikes on ISIS militants, and U.S. forces delivered food and water to besieged Yazidis trapped on Sinjar mountain. In the following months, as Yazidi women and children started emerging from captivity—some escaped, while others were rescued by a secret network of activists—with tales of horror, Yazidis pleaded for more international action. Former captives were severely traumatized. Mental-health care in Iraq was limited. And because the Yazidi faith doesn’t accept converts or marriage outside the religion, the women raped and forcibly converted to Islam by ISIS members feared they were no longer welcome in the community.

In Germany, home to the largest Yazidi population outside of Iraq, officials in Baden Württemberg decided to act. In October 2014, state premier Winfried Kretschmann decided to issue 1,000 humanitarian visas and earmark €95 million ($107 million) for what became known as the Special Quota Project for Especially Vulnerable Women and Children from Northern Iraq. The state recruited 21 cities and towns across the southwestern state to host the refugees, agreeing to pay municipalities €42,000 ($50,000) per person for housing and other costs, while the state would cover the cost of their healthcare. Two other states agreed to take an additional 100 people.

Program officials interviewed survivors of ISIS captivity in Iraq, selecting those with medical or psychological disorders as a result of their captivity who could benefit from treatment in Germany. The project was not restricted to Yazidis, and a small number of Christians and Muslims also were chosen. That was when the officials told each woman that after two years, immediate family members like husbands could apply for a visa under German rules for family unification.

The program was groundbreaking. No German state had ever administered its own humanitarian admission program. And instead of waiting for asylum-seekers to make dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, officials were seeking out the most vulnerable and bringing them to safety. The first plane arrived in March 2015. The last of the flights—including the one carrying Hanan—landed in January 2016.

Hanan, along with 111 others, was sent to a pleasant hilltop town of about 25,000 people at the edge of the Black Forest. (Officials asked that the town not be named to protect the survivors, whom they fear could be targeted by ISIS members.) For the first three years, she lived with about half of the group in an old hospital in the town center that had been converted into a communal residence.

Hanan and her five children occupied two rooms off a central corridor—one they used for sleeping, and the other, with a sink along one wall and a worn leather sofa along another, as a living room. They shared a bathroom and a kitchen with a large family next door.

“The neighbors are worse than Daesh,” she joked with a grimace, using a pejorative name for ISIS. It was May 2017, more than a year after her arrival. She sat on the floor to breastfeed her youngest child, Saber. At three, he was small for his age, but Hanan was small too. Her long dark hair was pulled back, and she wore a long blue skirt and a dark hoodie. Her next youngest, Sheelan, climbed into a wardrobe in the corner, peeking out from underneath thick black bangs. Haneya, her oldest at 10, and Hanadi and Berivan, eight and seven, were fighting with the neighbor’s children, their shrieks competing with the Kurdish music videos blaring from the television. Hanan yelled at them to stop.

Caring for her five children alone was wearing Hanan out. She was often sick, but found it difficult to go to the doctor because she didn’t have help with childcare. She complained about painful and unresolved gynecological issues from being repeatedly raped. She wanted to go back to the doctor, but she relied on social workers to make appointments for her and said they were blowing off her requests. And most days, she suffered debilitating headaches.

A trauma therapist came once a week to the shelter for a group session with the women, but Hanan usually wasn’t able to attend because of the children. And she didn’t want to talk about her experiences in front of the other women. When she slept, nightmares came. One night she dreamed she was back in captivity and an ISIS fighter was trying to take her oldest daughter, Haneya. Hanan woke herself and the children up with her screams. The older girls talked about their time in captivity often and sometimes had nightmares too. “They’re not like normal kids,” Hanan said. “When it’s nighttime, they ask me, ‘Mama, do you think Daesh is going to come to get us?’”

A year earlier, around six months after her arrival, that nightmare had become reality. She was out shopping for food when she spotted him. He had trimmed his hair and beard, and exchanged his tunic for a blue T-shirt. But it was him—the ISIS member who had been her captor for a month.

She stared, frozen in place. He saw her, too: His eyes widened in recognition and surprise. Panic shot through her and then her feet were moving, carrying her out of the store and around the corner. By the time she went to the police, he was gone. She said they treated her as if she had mistaken a random refugee for her former tormenter. But she knew what she saw. “How could I forget the face of the man who raped me?”

Germany was supposed to be a sanctuary. Now, inside the old hospital walls was the only place Hanan felt safe. She rarely ventured out, remembering threats from her captors that they would find her if she ran away.

She worried the man she’d spotted might come back to harm them. The only identifying information she could give police was his nom de guerre. And though police were stationed outside the shelter for some time after she made the report, Markus Burger, head of the department for refugees and resettlement in the town’s social office, said his office eventually received a report stating there was no direct threat. The police referred questions about the incident to the federal public prosecutor, and a spokesman for the prosecutor said the office was aware of the incident but could not comment further. At least one other woman in the programsaw her own captor in Germany, and she later returned to Iraq because she no longer felt safe.

Hanan couldn’t understand why the police couldn’t find the man. She began to see threats anywhere she went. Muslim people speaking Arabic terrified her. Once at a park with her children, a bearded man on a bench called out to her. Though she had never seen him before, she was afraid. She gathered the children and rushed back to the shelter.

Yazidis are no strangers to trauma. The religious minority has endured centuries of persecution and attacks, from the Ottoman empire to Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. Jan Kizilhan, an expert in psychotraumatology and transcultural psychotherapy who was the program’s chief psychologist, was born to a Yazidi family in Turkey and immigrated to Germany as a child. Survivors of ISIS captivity are dealing not only with their own individual trauma from the violence and family separation they endured, he said, but also the historical trauma borne by their people, and the collective trauma from ISIS’s attempted genocide.

But after the women arrived in Germany as part of the program, trauma therapy wasn’t a top priority. At first, most of the refugees were focused on adjusting to life in Germany, said Kizilhan. They were also following the situation back home, where a multinational coalition was wrestling territory away from ISIS. With every victory, Yazidi families waited for news of their missing relatives, hoping they would not be among the bodies discovered in mass graves. Most had family members in camps, and others still in captivity. They weren’t ready to work through past trauma in therapy, because it was still part of their present.

There was another, more basic, obstacle to treatment: Most of the women were unfamiliar with the concept of psychotherapy. “To even help them understand why they would need this or how it would help, it takes time,” said Kizilhan. In many Middle Eastern cultures, including the Yazidi community, psychological trauma is often expressed somatically, he explained — many women complained of a burning liver, headaches, or stomachaches when the root was a psychological, rather than physiological, problem.

In 2017 and 2018, Tübingen University Hospital and the University of Freiburg, which were also involved in psychotherapeutic care for program participants, carried out surveys of 116 of the women in the program. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder during the first survey, and the number remained the same a year later. That makes the fact that just 40% of the women have received trauma therapy, years after their arrival, striking.

But Kizilhan insists the figure does not represent a failure. Some women simply don’t want therapy, he says, and it can’t be forced. He expects that an additional third of the women will be ready for therapy in the coming years. “And then we will be there to help them,” he says. “Each person is individual, different, and needs different timing.” The state decided to cover the cost of the womens’ healthcare indefinitely—initial plans were to foot the bill for three years—after it spent only €60 million ($71 million) of the allocated €95 million ($113 million) on the program.

Kizilhan acknowledges the challenges, including finding enough therapists and translators to work with the women. Kizilhan and Blume, who led the Special Quota project, say the program was an emergency intervention, and that a more long-term solution is building capacity for mental health care in Iraq. The state of Baden Württemberg has put resources toward that, too—donating €1.3 million ($1.5 million) to help establish the first master’s program for psychotherapy in Iraq, started by Kizilhan at the University of Duhok in 2017.

Kizilhan and Blume say the program in Germany has been successful despite the challenges. In the Tübingen University study, 91% of the women surveyed said they were satisfied to be in Germany, and 85% said they were satisfied with the program. When asked if they were satisfied with the psychosocial care, the number who said yes dropped to 72%. Hanan was among those who found it lacking.

Her struggle to access medical care and therapy were two of the ways she felt let down by the program. For her first three years in Germany, Hanan received minimal therapy, even though she wanted it. She rarely attended the group sessions, both because she found them unhelpful and because of the ongoing childcare issues. She said she was not offered individual sessions. Burger said when social workers saw some women were unhappy with group sessions, they arranged for individual therapy, and Hanan began talking with a therapist every few weeks. She said it helped a little, but she felt the same after each session.

***

On a Wednesday in July 2018, Hanan left German class early to shop for food. Before leaving home, she pulled on a fitted black blazer over her beige shirt and leggings. The clothes were new; she had recently cast aside the long, dark skirts and sweaters that she had worn ever since her escape for a more modern wardrobe. Friends had urged her to make the switch, teasing her that she dressed like she was still living under ISIS. Hanan walked to the store, passing traditional timber-frame buildings and window boxes overflowing with geraniums and petunias. She spotted a friend outside the supermarket and stopped to chat before buying chicken legs and vegetables. Managing the family’s budget alone—something she had never done in Iraq—was challenging. Sometimes she didn’t have enough money at the end of the month.

Two years on from encountering her former captor, the town was beginning to feel less threatening, though Hanan still didn’t like going out at night. She attended German language class four mornings a week. She’d never learned how to read or write as a child, so learning German was doubly hard, but she was making slow progress. She was also making a few German friends, and she’d found a way to decipher their text messages even though she couldn’t read. When she received a message, she’d paste it into the Google Translate app and press the audio button. A robotic voice would read it aloud and she’d reply via voice note.

Back at home, she put a pot of rice on the stove and began browning the chicken, preoccupied by the logistics of her upcoming trip to Iraq to visit her husband, Hadi. She’d learned through her social worker that her stipend would be paused while she was away, and Hanan wasn’t sure how she would make it through the month without the money.

It would be the second time she had to travel to see Hadi. (The women were admitted as humanitarian refugees, rather than asylum seekers, which spared them the process of applying for asylum and meant they were allowed to return to visit family in Iraq, unlike asylum holders.) Saber, now four, had spent most of his life separated from his father, and didn’t recognize him. The girls no longer even missed him. He was becoming a faraway memory.

Two and a half years had now gone by since she left Iraq, well past the two years after which Hadi had been promised he could apply for a visa. Hanan’s social worker helped her file papers related to his visa application. But whenever Hanan asked what was happening, she was given the same answer: Not yet.

What she didn’t know was that Germany’s position toward refugees had shifted. The welcoming stance the country adopted when more than a million people poured into the country seeking asylum in 2015 had hardened amid a backlashfueled by far-right anti-immigration parties. When he interviewed the women in 2015, and told them their husbands could apply for a visa after two years, Kizilhan was in line with the rules at the time. But now laws governing refugees and family unification visas were tightened. German courts even began ruling against Yazidiswho requested asylum, saying it was safe for them to go back to Iraq.

To date, no husbands of women in the Special Quota Project have received visas. It’s hard to know how many are waiting: Kizilhan says he has identified 18. According to the study, 28 percent of the women surveyed had husbands in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Baden Württemberg Ministry of Interior, Digitalization and Migration said that “special rules” apply to family reunifications for those granted humanitarian admission, and may only be allowed “for reasons of human rights, on humanitarian grounds or to protect political interests.” The special rules “must be considered on a case by case basis,” he said, and added the federal authorities are responsible for issuing visas, not the state.

Kizilhan said the ministry could intervene to make sure the family members are issued visas. But the political will behind the creation of the Special Quota Project has evaporated. In January, Kizilhan said he had recently met with state interior ministry officials to ask that they find a way to bring the husbands to Germany, but that they told him the change in federal law made it difficult to do so. “This is ridiculous,” Kizilhan says. “If you can take 1,100 with the special quota, you can take 18 people in one day.”

On trips back to Iraq, Kizilhan said he’s been confronted by husbands demanding answers, and is distressed that the state has not followed through. He notes that bringing the women’s immediate family to Germany would improve their psychological health—the goal of the program—by helping to reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms and easing their integration into society. Hanan often spoke of waiting for Hadi’s arrival to move into an apartment on her own. She was fearful of handling all the responsibilities of living in a new country without him. And she desperately needed help caring for the children, help she thought would be provided in the program. They’d spent a year separated from Hadi in captivity. Now, they were once again separated, once again waiting for their family to be reunited.

After Hanan’s visit to Iraq, months went by with no news about Hadi’s visa. They both began to despair that it would ever materialize, their frustration compounded by a dearth of information about the delay.

In the spring of 2019, after waiting three years, Hadi decided he could wait no longer. He borrowed money and set out for Germany along irregular migration routes. It took him eight months—he was detained in Greece on the way—but eventually he made it to Hanan. Their reunion, though, was far from perfect. After his arrival in Germany, the once-happy couple separated. Hanan would not discuss the details of their estrangement except to say that it took root because of their physical separation and left her distraught. He is now in a relationship with another woman and Hanan said he is not in touch with his children. His future in Germany is uncertain, too—it is unclear whether he will be permitted to stay.

Last summer Hanan moved into a light-filled two-bedroom furnished flat rented for her by the municipality in a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s decorated brightly in orange—a peach wall, tangerine dining chairs, an ochre shag carpet, and a sofa the color of carrots. While there’s a bunk bed in the kids’ room, they usually end up sleeping in Hanan’s king-size bed every night, a tangle of arms and legs. She was finally able to see a doctor to resolve her lingering gynecological health problem, although the daily headaches are still there. She’s no longer afraid of going out at night.

On a Sunday morning in January, she awoke late, groggy from hosting friends the night before. Saber, now six, and Sheelan, seven, plopped on the sofa to watch Tom and Jerry on the television as Hanan made bread in the kitchen. Squeezing small lumps off the dough, she quickly slapped each one from hand to hand, stretching it into a thin disc. In Iraq, she would have baked the loaves in an outdoor clay oven. Here, she used a small metal box oven, heated with an electric coil, placed on the countertop. She placed each loaf on top to let it brown, then baked it inside the oven before stacking the finished loaves on the windowsill.

When she was done, the children gathered at the table, scooping up fried eggs, yogurt, tahini, and cheese with the fresh bread. They chattered together in German; they rarely spoke Kurdish with one another anymore. Saber, impish and sensitive, speaks German with a near flawless accent. After breakfast, the three older girls clear the table, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor unbidden. Hanadi, now 11, and Berivan, now 10, both with round cheeks like their mother, are learning how to swim at school. Haneya, now 13, reads and translates the mail and types messages in German for her mother.

“Sometimes I look at my kids and think ‘OK, I’m all right.’ But I just feel bad,” Hanan said, lowering herself onto the sofa. “It’s a bad feeling inside of me, I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes I want to hit myself, because of this bad feeling inside, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Many times I thought about killing myself, but then I remember my kids, that they need me.”

The situation with Hadi has her so upset she doesn’t think about ISIS anymore, Hanan said, adding that she doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. She’s spent hours crying with a Yazidi friend, another survivor, who lives nearby. That’s the closest she gets to therapy now.

After Hanan moved into the apartment, her therapy sessions ended. A few months later, social workers took her to an appointment at a new therapist’s office, but she hadn’t gone back. She said the appointment time of 7 p.m. was impossible as there was no one to watch the children at home. But she knows she needs help. “It’s too much for me,” she said. “I can’t hold all these problems alone.”

Burger, of the town’s department for refugees and resettlement, said that as more of the women moved into private apartments last year—all but 10 now live on their own—it became harder to arrange therapy sessions. Some therapists have waiting lists, and there is always the problem of timing, he said. “It’s difficult finding a time when the trauma therapist and the translator both are available, and also when someone can take care for the children, and when the German classes aren’t at the same time. But we are working on it.” He could not give a number for how many of the women in the town were undergoing therapy, saying it was constantly changing, but said therapy was available to all who wanted it. “We can only offer it,” he said. “In the end it is the decision of the women if they want to take part in the programs, and we don’t want to and can’t force anyone to take part.”

Hanan knows it was right to come to Germany. She’s better off than she would be in Iraq, where despite the territorial defeat of ISIS, most Yazidis are still displaced, and their future is uncertain. She feels safe now in Germany, and she can see bright futures for her children here.

But she can’t muster any of that hope for herself, not after losing Hadi. The darkness she had hoped to escape never went away. “Maybe I’m going to go crazy, or I’m going to kill myself. Maybe I won’t find a solution for myself except to die,” she said. “Now I’m 34, and I didn’t see any hope in my entire life. And for the future also, I don’t have any hope. Only God knows.”

Source: A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Interesting account of some of the challenges involved:

Taha A.-J.*, an Iraqi man believed to have belonged to the “Islamic State” (IS), has been standing trial in Frankfurt since late April on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the center of his trial is the death of a 5-year-old girl belonging to the Yazidi minority group.

The charges are based on statements by his wife, Jennifer W.*, a staunch IS supporter who lived with him in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. In 2018, she told a police informant that during her first stay in IS territory in 2015 she saw Taha A.-J. punish the girl, purchased as a slave, for wetting the bed. Jennifer W. alleged that he had chained the girl to a window in the scorching sun, where she died an agonizing death.

Jennifer W. has been on trial herself since April 2019, as she did nothing to save the girl. In that case, the girl’s mother — also a slave in the same household — testified that she was forced to watch her daughter die.

Unprecedented case

Taha A.-J. was arrested in Greece in May 2019 under a German arrest warrant and was transferred to Germany in October. His ongoing trial — the first against a former IS militant to deal with the IS genocide of the Yazidi — has attracted international attention.

Genocide is the most serious crime under international criminal law. But according to Alexander Schwarz, a Leipzig-based lawyer who specializes in international law, “the difficulty lies in proving that the individual perpetrators were actually determined to destroy an entire ethnic group.”

Schwarz told DW that Taha A.-J.’s trial is unprecedented. “For the first time, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office is pursuing a purely international offense,” he said, pointing out that the alleged act was not committed in Germany, that neither perpetrators nor victims are German citizens, and that the accused wasn’t even on German territory at the time of his arrest.

International criminal law is becoming an increasingly important part of the work done by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. When the trial of the 35-year-old IS returnee Omaima A.* began in Hamburg on May 4, charges against her also included crimes against humanity. Omaima A., the widow of IS jihadi Denis Cuspert, who was killed in Syria in 2018, is also said to have kept a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as a slave.

After Omaima A. returned from the Syrian war zone in 2016, she lived a peaceful life in her hometown of Hamburg for three years. It wasn’t until investigative journalist Jenan Moussa, reporting for Arab television network Al-Aan TV, uncovered the necessary evidence against her that charges could be filed.

With thousands of photos and videos found on the phone Omaima A. used while living in Syria, Moussa was able to retrace her life in IS territory in great detail, eventually producing a documentary about the German IS supporter.

Not just housewives and mothers?

The photos shown in the documentary — introduced as evidence at Omaima A.’s trial — show her alone and with children, posing with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Moussa’s work also uncovered chat conversations with several men. These documents show that the perception of female IS supporters as passive, easily influenced victims needs to be reconsidered, said Schwarz, the lawyer from Leipzig. “Numerous returnees — female IS fighters — were armed, with automatic weapons, AK-47 rifles or pistols,” he said.

Many women also worked for the so-called morality police, controlling how other women dressed, behaved and lived under IS rule. According to Schwarz, the practice of keeping slaves was “an act that can be attributed to the female fighters, and was even predominantly practiced by them.”

In order to issue an arrest warrant and charges, Germany’s top judges have said that evidence of explicit support for IS, or proof that a person directly fought for the militant group, is necessary. Without this proof, suspects could go unpunished. It’s exactly for this reason that many IS returnees have repeatedly claimed they were only responsible for taking care of the household and the children, and that they had no knowledge of reported atrocities.

Slave ownership has featured in other cases against IS returnees, including that of Sarah O.*. Details of her trial, which has been ongoing since October, have been kept from the public, as she was said to have been a minor when she allegedly committed the crimes she’s been charged with. According to investigators, the now 21-year-old decided to move to IS territory in Syria at the age of 15.

In addition to slave ownership, Sarah O. has also been accused of having lived with her husband and children in apartments assigned to them by IS forces. That may sound harmless. Legally, however, this is considered a form of looting: if IS assigned jihadis to live in an apartment,  that meant the previous residents must have been expelled or killed. This is defined as looting, or pillaging — and is thus a violation of article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Targeting female jihadis

This interpretation of the law was first used in the trial against Sabine S.* in 2019. She was sentenced to five years in prison for war crimes, mainly for taking possession of two apartments. Since last year, Germany’s federal prosecutors have accused IS returnees of eight violations of the Rome Statute, with the looting charge particularly being used to prosecute female jihadis.

Lawyer Serkan Alkan, however, has been critical of the court’s reliance on this charge. Alkan has represented several IS supporters in German courts, and told DW that women had no say under IS rule. “The idea that you could stand there, as a woman, and say, ‘No, I will not take this house because it’s a violation of international criminal law’ — that’s a rather utopian perspective,” he said.

But federal prosecutors have been successful with this approach. Sibel H.*, from Aschaffenburg near Frankfurt, twice made the journey to IS territory, the first time in 2013. She returned to Germany the following year after her husband was killed, only to remarry an IS supporter and head back to the Middle East, where they had two children before she was captured. In spring 2018, she was transferred from a Kurdish prison in northern Iraq to Germany, where she was eventually arrested and charged with the looting offense under international criminal law. On April 29, 2020, she was sentenced to three years in prison in Munich, where she is taking part in a reintegration program.

In the past five years, 122 IS supporters have returned to Germany from Syria or Iraq, according to government figures reported in late 2019. Of those returnees, 53 have been classified as a “potential threat,” and 18 are considered “relevant persons,” that is supporters or even leading figures within IS. Relying on international criminal law, Germany aims to make these people responsible for their actions.

*Editor’s note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

Source: Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Not as clear cut as that and a bit naive given reports from some refugee camps (At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule):

When three 15-year-old English girls from London’s Bethnal Green ran away to join Islamic State, it was front-page news. The British tabloid press had a field day, as did the more moderate papers. “It became a kind of national trauma I think because it was so shocking. They were good students and they were popular,” says Azadeh Moaveni, author of a new book about the women of IS.

Called Guest House for Young Widows, the book is a ripping yarn and has been named one of The New York Times’ top 100 books of 2019. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex realities at play for those drawn to the fight.

Bewildered by the contempt for the Bethnal Green girls – referred to as whores for the Caliphate and concubines for IS – she was inspired to cover the story when one columnist argued British police should stop looking for the girls. “Because these weren’t our girls.”

In her quest to find them, the London-based journalist headed to southern Turkey, where she met three Syrian women. “They were incredible to me, because I thought they were the last kind of women that could be drawn into this. I thought wow, these are ordinary young women who live approximate lives to me … they’re not unknowables.”

Moaveni interviewed many women about their experiences. Some wanted to support fellow Muslims; others dreamt of travel, freedom and adventure. Many living in the region had little choice but to join, to guarantee their safety, protect their families or ensure an income. Many were actively lured.

Men in IS (referred to as ISIS in the book) were promoted and paid to recruit women; Moaveni argues the organisation’s gender strategy was crucial to its success. “It recruited young women and it used those recruitment circles to get more and more young women who weren’t married and could come over and marry the fighters, and slightly older women, saying ‘Come and you can have a role in the Caliphate, whatever you’re good at, come and do it’.

“It tapped in to all of this female energy that was not being addressed. All of these female anxieties country to country,” she says. In Saudi Arabia and Iraq, women are not allowed any involvement in politics.

When their husbands were killed, the women were forced to marry another fighter, housed in the guesthouse of the book’s title until ‘‘matched’’.

In the west, Moaveni says, we tend to view everything through the lens of terrorism, which  “obscures what we’re really dealing with”. “It’s great to tackle English language as a pathway to assimilation, really good to look at institutional racism as it targets Muslims, but [looking] through an extremist lens is not helpful.”

The Syrian revolution and the invasion of Iraq, which gave rise to IS, reflect a broken architecture in the Middle East that will lead to generation after generation of chaos that groups like IS can exploit. She argues western countries are invested in long-term political instability in the Middle East. “They’re unstable, no one gets the upper hand, every 10 years the state implodes, you have to send all of your contractors and aid workers in to help rebuild.

Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.
Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.

“Exclusion from politics, country to country … was a big part of the draw for IS. All these terrible states that are dictatorial and terrible and they don’t govern well and whole swathes of people are excluded from politics and it impacts women in particular because if you’re a woman you really suffer doubly under a bad government because it’s a bad government and it’s patriarchal.

“This broken political map, at the level of the citizen – especially the woman citizen – is suffocating people.”

Many countries are trying to work out how to deal with the men and women – and their children – coming back from this kind of conflict. The challenges of rehabilitation are stark but there is a strong security argument for countries bringing back their own, she says. “At least you can watch them and have them under strict surveillance and you don’t have 1000 floating westerners moving between this unstable crescent … waiting to join the next generation of IS or whatever emerges.”

Many politicians around the world are against repatriation. “Who wants to be the government who brought back the jihadi people from Syria?”

For her, it’s the only course of action. “People need to know that these people who went have gone through some sort of justice process … Some sort of prosecution and public accounting of what happened would then make their return feel more acceptable.”

Moaveni says many of the IS marriages became protection marriages. “In the middle of a war zone you could get out of a guest house that was really horrible, you had someone who could protect you. The women started to see that, too. That’s something that we don’t recognise about IS – you couldn’t get out of IS.”

Source: The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

‘Naïve and dangerous’: Conservatives blast Liberal policy after U.K. strips ‘Jihadi Jack’s’ citizenship

Of the many articles on Jack Letts, I picked this one, given the Conservative’s implementation revocation provisions is C-24. During parliamentary hearings on C-24 (and the subsequent repeal under the Liberals in C-6), the risk of “beggar the neighbour” approaches between countries was raised by Audrey Macklin among others.

So no surprise that it has happened, and from an overall security perspective, offloading a suspected terrorist to another government, does not increase security. That Britain did so, when Letts only has a formal connection to Canada, having been raised and grown-up in the UK, only makes it worse.

Conservative leader Scheer did not include citizenship issues when he unveiled his immigration policy a few months ago:

The Conservatives on Sunday renewed their condemnation of the Liberal government’s position on citizenship rights for terrorists, following news that U.K. officials had stripped former ISIL member Jack Letts — known as “Jihadi Jack” — of his British citizenship.

Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus did not commit to overturning a policy introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 that would prevent Canada from making a similar move, but said the Liberal government must fight to keep Letts out of the country. 

“The idea that anyone who signed up to fight with ISIS can be reformed is naïve and dangerous to the safety of Canadians,” Paul-Hus said in a statement on Sunday. Justin Trudeau must assure Canadians today that he isn’t trying to bring Jihadi Jack back to Canada.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Sunday confirmed reports that the United Kingdom had revoked Letts’ citizenship, saying in a written statement that Canada was “disappointed” by the move, and accusing Britain of trying to “off-load their responsibilities.”

The move means that if Letts is deported, he would become the sole responsibility of Canada.

The issue might have set off a behind-the-scenes diplomatic row between the two countries, according to media reports and private emails from Canadian consular officials unearthed by the National Post. It could also refuel debate over whether Ottawa should be allowed to revoke dual citizens of their status as Canadians if convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by British media, is being held by Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The longtime U.K. resident, now 24 years old, converted to Islam at a young age and eventually left the country to join the extremist organization, eventually settling in the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa. He was arrested and imprisoned in 2017.

His entire family are dual British-Canadian citizens, including his father, John Letts, who was born in Ontario, and his U.K.-born mother, Sally Lane.

In June, Letts’ parents were found guilty of funding terrorism after they wired their son money in a bid to help him escape an ISIL-controlled region of Syria.

The court heard that a member of Letts’ mosque in the U.K. had warned the parents that their son might have been radicalized, and that they should take away his passport as a way to protect him. But Letts and Lane reportedly ignored the advice and bought him a plane ticket to Jordan in 2014 for a “grand Middle East adventure,” according to one recollection of events.

According to media reports, Letts became known to authorities after a spate of violent Facebook posts, in which he said he would “happily kill each and every one” of the members of a British military regiment of which a former schoolmate was a member.

There is no clear evidence whether Letts personally carried out any violent acts during his time with ISIL.

Citing private emails from Global Affairs Canada, the National Post reported last October that Canadian consular officials had been in contact with Letts’ parents for months. The officials went as far as to discuss possible escape routes for Letts out of Syria, and assured his parents they were “working diligently on your son’s file,” according to the emails.

But their tone shifted abruptly in early 2018, the emails show, leading the family to believe that British officials had struck down those efforts behind closed doors.

The diplomatic spat could refuel a long-standing debate in Canada. Because international law prevents governments from making anyone “stateless,” only people with two passports can have their citizenship stripped.

In 2014, former prime minister Stephen Harper amended the Citizenship Act to allow Canada to strip the status of any dual citizen who is found guilty of terrorism, among other things. The Liberal government under Trudeau reversed that decision in a bill that passed through the Senate in 2017.

Some experts say efforts by Britain are counterproductive and run afoul of human rights laws.

“I think there’s a real question here as to whether Britain is violating international law by doing this, and whether Canada could seek to hold the U.K to account,” said Audrey Macklin, a human rights law professor at the University of Toronto.

Macklin said moves to render people stateless can in turn stymie efforts to snuff out terrorist organizations.

“If you are serious about global co-operation in combatting terrorism, you would realize that citizenship stripping is inimical to that,” she said. 

Trudeau is due to meet the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, at a Group of Seven meeting in France that starts on Aug. 24.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Toronto earlier this month. The two ministers discussed Letts during the visit, yesterday’s statement from Goodale’s office said.

“While we are disappointed in their decision, we do not conduct tit-for-tat diplomacy. Canada and the U.K. continue to work closely together on a number of issues, including the situation in Hong Kong,” the statement added.

Source: ‘Naïve and dangerous’: Conservatives blast Liberal policy after U.K. strips ‘Jihadi Jack’s’ citizenship

Sensible commentary by Doug Saunders:

The Easter Sunday atrocities in Sri Lanka have not only brought horror to the island’s tiny, impoverished Christian community and threatened an end to the country’s decade of unsteady peace. They’ve also struck fear in the governments and security agencies of many countries, including Canada, which have been struggling to deal with a steady trickle of their citizens seeking to return home from Syria and Iraq.

We don’t know whether reports are true that two or more of the Sri Lankan terrorists had gone to Syria to fight with the terrorist army that calls itself Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh), and returned after that organization’s self-proclaimed caliphate was crushed and defeated last year. It is clear, however, that the attacks are linked to a desire among some of that organization’s former fighters to bring revenge to their own countries.

There are currently several hundred European, U.S. and Canadian alleged IS fighters being held in northern Syria by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (the number of Canadians may be as low as 10). Whether they should be returned to their home countries is the subject of an intense international debate.

Some have suggested stripping them of their citizenship – which was a legal option, rarely if ever applied, under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government – thus making them the responsibility of some other country. Others wonder why we should be responsible for investigating and trying Canadians who allegedly have committed grave crimes abroad; in other circumstances, they’d be tried and sentenced in the place where their crimes took place.

But they are, ultimately, our problem. They aren’t foreign – almost all the Canadians accused are Canadian citizens born here to Canadian families, and their radicalization took place here, in the dark corners of Canadian society. To attempt to dump them on another country, or on a poor and struggling Kurdish-led Syrian democracy movement that has already been betrayed by Canada and its allies, would be both immoral and dangerous.

There are good reasons why nobody is eager to see them returned. The probability of any returned foreign fighter committing violence is low – a 2015 study found that only 0.2 per cent of returned fighters, or one in 500, had been charged with terrorism offences. The return of IS fighters has not produced the wave of attacks that many had anticipated. But the few who do maintain their violent commitments are noted, in the words of a study published last year by the United Nations Security Council, for their “increased lethality, both as attackers and as attack planners,” making them responsible for “some of the most lethal terrorist attacks.”

But the flaw in the citizenship-stripping approach becomes apparent when you take a close look at those who have dual citizenship, and would therefore be eligible.

Typical of them is Syrian detainee Jack Letts, who holds both Canadian and British citizenship. Neither Canada nor Britain wants him back. Political leaders in both countries have suggested revoking his citizenship – and thus dumping his case, and the considerable security and justice costs associated with his case, on the other country.

As a result, he waits in Syria. If he is guilty of atrocities or war crimes – and simply being a member of IS could qualify as one – neither country is willing to expend the investigative and judicial resources to prove it and bring him to justice. If he is innocent, as he claims, neither country is willing to try to clear him.

The Kurds have made it clear that they do not want hundreds of people such as him on their hands. Ilham Ahmed, a leader of the Kurdish-led SDF, says it is straining their resources just to hold people such as him. “We have provided the support we can by arresting them and detaining them in prisons, but who is going to take them to court?” she told the Financial Times. “Who is going to [be] carrying out the prosecution?”

Another horrific news story this month illustrated the risk of not taking these people back. Germany is currently trying a 27-year-old woman from Lower Saxony known as Jennifer W. for allegations that she, as an IS “morality policewoman” in Syria, tortured a 5-year-old Yazidi slave girl to death. Prosecutors consider themselves lucky to have found a phone containing what they say are incriminating messages.

If kept in Syria or foisted on another country, she would never have been charged. Trials such as hers are expensive, difficult and risky, but the expense is necessary, and the risk would be greater if these people were left at large. Some of them may be the world’s worst people, but they are our people. If they are truly to be brought to justice, or at least kept under watch so they pose less danger, it is far more likely to happen here.

Source: Canadian extremists returning from Syria are a big problem – but they’re our problem

When Islamic State came, the monks had just finished hiding the manuscripts

Noteworthy and good that the manuscripts were saved:

The first time a band of Islamic State militants “visited” the monks, they presented the monks with a kind of suggestion, in a nonthreatening manner: “Why don’t you become a Muslim?”

Already, the four monks at the ancient Syriac Catholic Mar Behnam Monastery in Khidr, Iraq, had felt they were under siege. Ten days earlier, on June 10, 2014, five carloads of militants roared through the peaceful road leading to Mar Behnam, announcing through megaphones that the Islamic State was in control. Not long before that, the Iraqi army had withdrawn from a checkpoint near the monastery, located southeast of Mosul.

“Visits” from the terrorists the next few weeks intensified: banging on the monastery doors and accusations of the monks being infidels.

“Quite frankly, we were more than frightened,” said Syriac Catholic Father Youssef Sakat, who had served as Mar Behnam’s superior.

The monks kept up with their regular daily routine of prayer and Mass in the monastery, which dates back to the fourth century. They prayed for protection through the intercession of St. Behnam, a martyr, with faith that “we were in a blessed place,” mindful that generations of Syriac Catholic Christians had also faced persecution, and still the faith had endured, Father Sakat told Catholic News Service.

The monastery “was built by local people, stone by stone,” he said of Mar Behnam. “I’m sure they put their hearts into their work. I feel it was made with love.”

Under Father Sakat’s direction since 2012, Mar Behnam had flourished, welcoming up to 250 visitors on weekends — even from around the world — for retreats and lodging with the goal of helping people to better understand the monastic life. The monks would engage the children in lively faith-based activities.

“We wanted to show them that Mar Behnam is their home, too,” Father Sakat said.

A Muslim friend the monks trusted was keeping them abreast of the worsening situation, but even he was becoming fearful.

“I’m sorry, Father, I can’t come to the monastery anymore,” he told the priest. “Even I’m being watched. It’s becoming very dangerous. They want to kill you.”

All the while, Father Sakat was deeply concerned about how to safeguard the chalices and other sacramentals and the monastery’s extensive collection of religious manuscripts from inevitable destruction by the militants.

The 630 manuscripts, dating from the 12th to 18th centuries, were written in a range of languages, including Syriac, Greek, French and Latin.

Twice, Father Sakat tried to leave by car, with the intention of taking manuscripts to Qaraqosh, nine miles away. Each time, the militants at the Islamic State checkpoint near Mar Behnam told the priest that he was not allowed to take anything from the monastery.

“It doesn’t belong to you,” they said. On his third attempt, he was ordered to return to the monastery: “If we see you outside, we will kill you.”

On their own, the monks could not come up with a solution, Father Sakat said.

He recalled that on July 19, late in the afternoon, “I felt in my heart: I have to hide them now.” He chose a long, narrow closet under a stairwell that was used to store cleaning supplies.

“It was the Lord who directed us,” Father Sakat said.

Beginning at 8 p.m., the monks worked together, carefully placing the sacramentals and manuscripts into nine steel barrels used for storing grain. With cinderblocks from a monastery renovation project, they built a false wall in the closet, hiding the barrels behind it. With a cement mixture, they painted all the walls to give them the same appearance. Cleaning supplies were put back in place in the closet. The monks even left the closet door ajar, so as not to rouse suspicions of any Islamist intruder.

They finished their work at 3 a.m.

At 1:30 p.m., four Islamic State militants barged through the Mar Behnam door with a sheikh. The monks were given three choices: either become Muslim, pay the jizya tax or leave.

“We prefer to leave,” Father Sakat told the Islamists. They were allowed 15 minutes to vacate. Father Sakat was ordered to turn over all the keys to the monastery and vehicles.

Banished from his beloved monastery, as he walked out the door, “I looked back and told Mar (St.) Behnam, ‘I did what I had to do. Now I entrust them under your intercession, by the power of God. Keep them safe. They are under your protection,’” Father Sakat recounted of his plea to safeguard the sacramentals and manuscripts.

The monks were ordered into one of the militants’ vehicles. Two miles from the monastery, the militants left the monks on the road, warning: “Whoever looks back, we will shoot him.”

The monks walked several hours to Qaraqosh. Their reprieve from terrorism was not for long. Soon that city and other Christian villages in the Ninevah Plain also fell to Islamic State.

In June 2015, the Syriac Catholic patriarch called Father Sakat to Lebanon for his new mission, helping Iraqi Christian refugees who had come to Lebanon from Kurdistan, in northern Iraq.

Now the priest heads the Syriac Catholic Holy Family center in an area of Beirut where many Iraqi Christians settled, with the hope of being resettled in Western countries. Initially, there were 1,200 Syriac Catholic families, totaling 6,700 people. Many are now scattered all over the world; 600 families remain in Lebanon, waiting.

In March 2015, the Islamic State blew up part of Mar Behnam, and the monastery remained under the militants’ control until the area was liberated in October 2017.

When Father Sakat visited the monastery that December, he said he was shocked at the destruction.

Graffiti covered the walls. The pillars of the altar were incinerated. One by one, all religious phrases, crosses and symbols inscribed into the monastery’s stones were drilled out and defaced, including the names of priests inscribed on tombs. Religious statues were smashed, a statue of Mary beheaded.

“It’s like they want to erase all the history of Christianity,” Father Sakat said.

Father Sakat stood with anticipation as the wall concealing the manuscripts was chiseled away with a jackhammer, to reveal, intact, the nine steel barrels containing the sacramentals and manuscripts.

The manuscripts were individually packed, this time into car trunks to transport them to the Queen of Peace Syriac Catholic Church in Irbil for safekeeping.

Restoration of the monastery is currently in progress, but “it needs some time,” Father Sakat said.

“I’m waiting for the Lord’s will, to go back (to Mar Behnam),” he added.

Source: When Islamic State came, the monks had just finished hiding the manuscripts

Yazidi survivors of Isis sex slavery told to give up their children

A reminder that the victims of atrocities sometimes can in turn victimize others, and that a persecuted religion can also discriminate:

Yazidi women who survived Islamic State sex slavery have to choose between giving up the children born to them during captivity or expulsion from their ethnic and religious community.

The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council has ruled children of these abused and traumatised women cannot join the community, countermanding an order issued last week by council head Hazem Tahsin.

He had called for “accepting all survivors [of Islamic State rapes] and considering what they went through to have been against their will”. His position was in line with a 2015 edict issued by Yazidi spiritual leader, Baba Sheikh, who welcomed the women back but did not take a decision on their children.

Bana Sheikh’s omission enabled the council to reverse its chairman’s ruling by issuing a clarification stating that the decree “does not include children born of rape, but refers to children born of two Yazidi parents”.

The children of Islamic State fighters are to be excluded because Yazidis who marry or procreate outside their community are excommunicated. The mainly Kurdish-speaking Yazidis belong to a distinct ethnic grouping and practice a monotheistic faith with roots in ancient Mesopotamian religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Popular misconceptions about their beliefs have caused them to be branded “devil worshippers” and subjected to discrimination and abuse.

Source: Yazidi survivors of Isis sex slavery told to give up their children

Canada must bring home its own from the ruins of Islamic State

Almost completely silent on the challenges of successful prosecution. And there is a different in terms of letting them return to Canada and actively facilitating their return:

I despise Daesh (the Islamic State group) and its ilk. In fact, I have spent a better part of my life challenging their religious  interpretations and practices.

Yet, I believe that Ottawa must repatriate Canadians who answered the Daesh call, because this is the right thing to do if we truly believe in human rights and constitutional principles.

For children’s sake

We must learn from the recent death of Jarrar, the newborn son of British-born Shamima Begum, who left the UK as a 15-year-old. The baby died after London revoked Shamima’s citizenship and left them both to ostensibly stew in her hate.

Under British law, Shamima Begum was a child when she left. Now, a British baby is dead for his parents’ sins. As British MP Anna Soubry wrote, the UK breached its duty to Jarrar.

There are at least 32 Canadians being held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces

The former Conservative MP rightfully argued that Shamima should have been brought to the UK, questioned, and had the law books thrown at her while her son should have been given the “protection and the support that a civilised country provides for all its children.”

Kurdish authorities say that 5,000 former alleged IS fighters and their families are being held in makeshift prisons in Iraq.

This includes 1,300 children. Russia repatriated 27 children in February. France has agreed to repatriate around 130 fighters and their families.

Belgians, who composed the largest number of Caliphate fighters per capita, are not feeling particularly welcome. Late last year, going against public opinion, a Belgian court ruled that the government must repatriate its citizens.

In a principled and courageous decision, the Solomonic judge ruled that bringing the children without their mothers – who were convicted in absentia – would violate their human rights. The judge also imposed a daily penalty of 5,000 euros per child against the government until they were returned.

Belgium’s migration secretary said: “We won’t punish young children for their parents’ misdeeds. They have not chosen the Islamic State.”

Unfortunately, an appellate court overturned the decision a few weeks ago and now 160 Belgian children are in limbo.

A mature debate

Canadian Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale says the government has not decided what to do.

Canada needs to act before we read about Canadian children dying in Syrian camps.

Rather than having a mature  debate about bringing IS members to justice, our politicians appear to be gauging the public mood rather than stepping up

According to CBC, there are at least 32 Canadians being held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Dr Alexandra Bain of the Canadian group Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE) claims that more than half of those held in Syria are under the age of five.

Rather than having a mature and constitutionally rooted debate about bringing Daesh members to justice and dealing with non-combatants as well as women and children, our politicians appear to be guaging the public mood rather than stepping up.

Leadership may require that you sometimes stand up to mobocracy (the whims of the majority) and it always means standing up for constitutionally entrenched rights – even for the detested.

Why bring them back?

Rather than following the examples set by Macedonia, Russia, France, etc, Canada caved into British “arm-twisting” and breached a deal with Kurdish authorities to repatriate Canadian citizens, according to a report by the Guardian.

These individuals went there for reasons ranging from ideological affinity, out of a sense of religious obligation, due to being brainwashed, the promise of adventure, the opportunity to create an Islamic utopia, out of empathy to relieve the suffering of others, while others were duped, forced or taken against their will.

Why should we bring them back?

First, as citizens, they have a right to come back to Canada. Though this does not impose an obligation on Ottawa to take proactive steps to bring back adults, a strong argument can be made that there is a mandatory duty owed to Canadian children.

Indeed, under the common law, our government through the courts have the parens patraie jurisdiction to look out for the best interest and welfare of our children. This is reason alone.

Setting a precedent

Second, contrary to what many people want, under international law we can’t just watch as these people are executed without due process, or held to rot even as evil as they are. Otherwise, as President Trump said correctly, if they are left alone they may continue to create havoc elsewhere.

We must set a precedent and send out a message to any of our citizens who may contemplate such actions in the future that there are consequences for such actions. This is best done by putting those who are culpable on trial.

Leaving Canada to participate in a terror group is an offence under the criminal code punishable to a term of up to 10 years. Indeed, as General Lord Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British army, told the Guardian about British fighters:

“They have to be put through due process and imprisoned if that is the right thing to do,” he said. “But I think it is also important that we treat them fairly with justice and tempered with a bit of mercy as well because I think the way we treat them may well have important significance for the way other people view our society.

“We don’t want to see others radicalised and going off overseas in the future. How we treat these people coming back – fairly but firmly – we’ve got to get it right.”

We have failed

Third, most of these individuals were born “here” and more importantly were radicalised “here” not “there”. We bear part of the responsibility because we – as a society – and our institutions failed in not preventing them from being radicalised and in the case of many women from being groomed as brides.

It is tempting to dehumanise them and easy to “other” them, but let us not forget that we extend full due process rights even to paedophiles, mass murderers and serial killers.

Fourth, some of these individuals may serve as resources to fight radicalisation after they have been de-radicalised, after serving time, if deserved.

As argued in a New York Times op-ed by Bryant Neal Vinas, America’s first Al-Qaeda fighter, these returning fighters “can be a strategic asset” to fight radicalisation if we play it right.

Fifth, western nations, including Canada, pursue criminals to the far corners of the world using extradition treaties and other means. Indeed, we have even engaged in extraordinary rendition and participated in torture of our own citizens when we thought it was necessary. Yet, now it’s too difficult to pursue these people?

Of course, it would be disingenuous to argue that traitors who engage in terrorism should be treated the same as other criminals, because the state interests are especially compelling. At the same time, the values engaged in this context – equality, freedom of speech, religion, and association – make it important that we tread in a firm but cautious manner.

It is high time that we engage in reasoned, nuanced and considered debate in a manner consistent with our well-established values, including justice, fairness and compassion.

We cannot base our decisions on emotion, populist fear, hatred or our whims, because then we are no better than them.

Source: Canada must bring home its own from the ruins of Islamic State

Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

More relevant reporting:

As the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Syria enters its final stages, the BBC’s Jewan Abdi says the mood amongst many of the jihadists’ supporters who have left the area, including many women, remains defiant.

The encampment in the village of Baghuz is barely more than a few holes in the dirt covered with blankets. It is squalid and filthy.

But above it flies the black Islamic State flag, fresh and clean. IS fighters had raised it only the day before, an act of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

“That’s a sign they will fight,” says a soldier belonging to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the front lines battling the jihadists.

Just 24 hours later the battle resumed. It was the end of a ceasefire that had seen more than 12,000 leave in the preceding few days.

One day last week in the early morning, more than 20 trucks led by Humvees armed with machine guns went inside the tiny IS enclave to evacuate jihadist fighters and their families.

I followed these vehicles on their return journey to the desert where they were checked, separated, and sent on to camps run by the SDF forces. One military commander told me the total number of people evacuated was about 7,000.

The hunger and anger was evident on their faces. As I walked among them with my camera, trying to talk to them and film, several IS women suddenly attacked me and threw stones, dust and cans.

“Go film the brothers, don’t come here. Go. Leave. Go film them, we’re the woman of the Islamic State, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is greatest),” they said.

A few weeks ago, the SDF estimated the number of IS families and fighters left remaining in Baghuz to be between 1,500 and 2,000 people. But in just two days last week, 9,000 people emerged.

The final territory under IS’s control may be on its last legs in Syria, but the ideology remains strong among those who have left.

Many of the IS women I encountered threatened of violent jihad and raising their children to become jihadist fighters.

Two captors for one woman

Among the thousands of people turning up out of Baghuz, I also found victims of IS’s notorious brutality, including one Yazidi woman called Adiba.

A mother of two, Adiba was enslaved for five years after IS attacked her small village in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014.

Her husband was one of the hundreds of Yazidi men killed by the jihadist group, and she – like thousands of Yazidi women – was forced to convert to Islam and was used as a sex slave.

She says she was enslaved by a Moroccan man who beat her constantly and raped her. He was the father of her two-year-old child.

“I had to marry him. When we were alone he wasn’t good to me, he was always angry with me, but in front of people he treated me well,” Adiba tells me.

After Adiba’s first captor died, she was taken by another Moroccan man named Ahmed – orders she says came from her first captor in the event of his death.

Ahmed, who surrendered to the SDF last week, has denied enslaving Adiba.

Most of the people evacuated from Baghuz recently, including many foreigners who travelled to Syria and Iraq to live under IS rule, have been transported to the SDF-controlled camp al-Hol, in the north-east of the country.

The camp was designed to accommodate 20,000 people but the UN says conditions there are dire as the numbers have risen to more than 66,000.

The global dream of an Islamic State caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law – is on the brink of collapse, with most of its leadership gone and many captured by the SDF and coalition forces.

Hundreds of IS fighters have surrendered. Separated from their families, they sit in long queues in an area inaccessible to journalists, where US Special Forces and SDF soldiers interrogate them and send them on to detention centres and prisons under Kurdish control.

After losing their self-proclaimed caliphate, a sense of sadness, anger and indignation was clear among these fighters who are stuck in the middle of the desert, waiting to be moved into detention camps, away from their wives and children.

Source: Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Reminder of need for caution regarding wannabe returnees:

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria, March 8 (Reuters) – Foreign women with Islamic State have tried to assault others they deem “infidels” at a camp where they are being held in northeast Syria, attempting to impose their views even as the jihadists are facing territorial defeat, Reuters journalists visiting the site have found.

“They yell at us that we are infidels for showing our faces,” said a Syrian woman at al-Hol camp, where women and children were transferred from Islamic State’s final bastion in eastern Syria. “They tried to hit us.”

The Baghouz enclave is Islamic State’s last shred of populated territory after years of attacks have rolled back its ultra-radical “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

But its impending defeat is confronting the U.S.-allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the problem of what to do with growing numbers of people, many of them Islamic State followers, emerging from the enclave.

Most have been sent to al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis. Camp officials say they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine. Aid workers warn of spreading diseases, and dozens of children have died on the way there.

At least 62,000 people have now flooded the camp, the United Nations said on Friday, way above its capacity. More than 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.

The Syrian Kurdish authorities who control the camp have cordoned off the foreign women. On Friday, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing full face veils, they gathered behind a fence with a locked gate.

“The foreigners throw stones. They swear at the Syrians or Iraqis and at the camp officials. Even the kids make threats,” said a security official at the camp.

‘WE NEED HELP’

Guards have fired in the air to break up a few fights and on one occasion used a taser to pacify a foreign female jihadist detainee, another Syrian woman at the camp said.

Some of the women coming out of Baghouz in recent weeks have displayed strongly pro-Islamic State sympathies.

Hundreds of jihadists have also surrendered. But the Kurdish-led SDF believes the most hardened are still inside, ready for a fight to the death.

Before the final assault on Baghouz, the SDF said it was holding some 800 foreign Islamic State militants and 2,000 of their wives and children. While it has not given updated figures, the numbers have ballooned, prompting fresh calls for support.

“The situation in the camp is very miserable. The displaced are growing very much and we are trying to cover people’s needs as much as we can. But we need help,” said Mazin Shekhi, an official at the camp.

When young children arrive alone, officials deliver them to aid agencies or try to find adults to care for them at the camp for now, he added.

“Even the big tents are full. People are sleeping out in the open.”

The International Rescue Committee said at least 100 people have died, mostly children, en route or soon after reaching the camp, and more than 100 children have arrived on their own. The aid agency warned the camp had reached breaking point.

Women from different countries begged for food or asked about their detained husbands, while young boys kicked a ball around in the dirt amid scores of tents swaying in the wind.

CAMP SKIRMISHES

Some of the tensions at al-Hol reflect friction that has simmered for years between jihadists who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State, “al-Muhajirin”, and locals who were members or lived under its rule.

“There were problems with some people,” said a 30-year-old woman from Turkestan who gave her name as Dilnor.

She said her entire family had moved to Syria to escape oppression at home and “just wanted to live under the caliphate”. Her mother, father and siblings all followed her to Syria.

“The natives … they were kind of rude. They always said the muhajirin are a problem and dirty and so on. It was always like that,” she said outside the wire fence of the pen where she was staying with scores of other women.

“Now (they) are alone, and the muhajirin alone. Now there are no problems.”

Shekhi, the camp official, said foreign women with ties to Islamic State had been kept apart so “they don’t mix” with others. “We put them in a section alone to avoid them making problems with the displaced,” he said.

The foreign women often fought among themselves, he added.

“There are some who are more extremist who don’t accept others. This is happening just among themselves, because they are separated from the Syrians and Iraqis,” he said. “The situation is under control.”

The staunch loyalties of Islamic State followers point to the risk the group will continue to pose after the capture of Baghouz. It is also widely accepted that the militants will still represent a threat, holding remote patches of territory and mounting guerrilla attacks.

Source: Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

More background on the women who joined or supported ISIS:

Thousands of foreign-born women left their homes and lives to join Islamic State and marry its fighters. But now that the militant group’s so-called caliphate is reduced to crumbled masonry and scorched rebar, many of them want to return home.

Shamima Begum was a teenage schoolgirl in east London when she left home to join Islamic State; Hoda Muthana, an Alabama-born college student; Kimberly Gwen Polman, a 46-year-old single mom in Canada studying to be a children’s advocate. Now they’re held in a Kurdish-controlled prison in the hinterlands of eastern Syria, asking to be let back into their home countries.

The women branded “ISIS brides,” using initials for the militant group, have become a focal point of fierce debate for governments worldwide: What are states’ responsibilities toward these women?

A central question in that debate is what exactly did the women do in the caliphate? Were they cloistered housewives largely ignorant of the group’s realities, or active participants in its genocidal acts?

Women initially did not join combat

When Islamic State declared the establishment of its caliphate in 2014, it called upon all able-bodied Muslims to emigrate and engage in jihad, or struggle, to further its cause.

Initially, for women, that didn’t include combat, said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

“The role of the Muslim woman ideally was to be a wife and bear children,” he said in a phone interview, “and as a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.”

While its militants were waging what Islamic State called “offensive jihad” — blitz campaigns that saw the group put a third of Iraq and Syria each under its dominion — women were to be “bases of support” for husbands, fathers and sons, one wife explained.

Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of Amedy Coulibaly, the Paris gunman who killed five people in two January 2015 attacks, offered advice for fighters’ wives during a interview in an Islamic State magazine.

“Be advisors to them. They should find comfort and peace with you,” she said in an article in the February 2015 issue of Dabiq. “Do not make things difficult for them. Facilitate all matters for them.”

As a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.

Boumeddiene, who like her husband was born in France, is still at large and being sought by French authorities.

Women did claim more operational roles in suicide attacks outside Islamic State territories, said Devorah Margolin, a senior research analyst at the War Studies Department of Kings College London.

But most women who traveled to the caliphate intent on reaching the battlefield were unable to do so.

That changed to a degree as the group began to lose territory and many of its fighters were killed. It began to wage “defensive jihad.”

“By 2017 and 2018 they were proactively calling for women to engage in combat as well,” said Winter.

But there is little evidence women did so in large numbers.

Winter said there had been rumors of women given explosives and weapons training, but Islamic State never confirmed these reports.

There had been predictions women would increasingly take part in suicide bombings, since they generally have an easier time passing through checkpoints and whose faces could remain hidden under their garments.

There was also precedence for their deployment: Abu Musab Zarqawi, the spiritual godfather of Islamic State, dispatched Sajida Rishawi with a suicide vest to the Hotel Radisson in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2005. She failed to detonate her bomb but was caught by authorities after her husband’s device killed 38 people.

Some carried guns in the religious police force

Islamic State’s religious police, known as the Hisbah, roamed its territory to ensure residents were complying with the caliphate’s harsh edicts. People found in violation faced imprisonment, whipping and amputation. An all-female police force known as the Khansaa Brigade was an integral part of the Hisbah.

“We saw women in the Hisbah. They were all armed,” said Saad Ubaidi, who owns a beauty salon with his wife in Mosul, Iraq.

“Iraqi women had guns, but the foreigners carried ghadaraat,” said Ubaidi, using the slang term for Uzi machine guns.

Women played a vital part in the propaganda war

Women may not have fought on the battlefield, but they helped Islamic State spread its message.

“They were very much part of the propaganda machine of this state-building process,” said Margolin, who is writing a report on women’s role in violent Islamist groups for George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Women were some of Islamic State’s most active recruiters online, she said.

Blogs and social media accounts ostensibly held by foreign-born female adherents advertised their lives as if they were in an Islamist utopia. They encouraged others to do hijrah, emigrate to the caliphate.

Some would provide a guide on how to avoid being identified as someone traveling to Syria to join Islamic State. Others would suggest what to pack for life in the caliphate (makeup and Islamic clothing, according to one blogger), or offer quotidian details on how the group assigned housing to fighters and women.

Others would cheer for the group’s barbarism and gruesome tactics.

Muthana, the Alabama-born student and daughter of a Yemeni diplomat who joined Islamic State in 2014, exhorted Americans to follow her lead.

“Soooo many Aussies and Brits here,” she tweeted from her now-suspended account. “But where are the Americans, wake up u cowards.”

She encouraged those who couldn’t travel to Islamic State territory to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“Veterans, Patriot, Memorial etc Day parades..go on drive by’s + spill all of their blood or rent a big truck n drive all over them. Kill them,” she tweeted.

Women took part in the enslavement of Yazidis

In August 2014, the extremists surrounded Mt. Sinjar in northwestern Iraq. They began to hunt the Yazidis, an ancient religious minority long persecuted for their beliefs, which include elements of Christianity and Judaism. Islamic State viewed them as devil-worshipers.

Thousands of Yazidi men were slaughtered; women and girls were kidnapped and driven away to be sold in markets or given as gifts. In their enslavement, the women and girls would be servants to the household’s wife and raped by the husband.

One wife of an Islamic State member with a Yazidi enslaved in her household defended the practice in an issue of Dabiq. Her article was entitled “Slave-girls or Prostitutes?”

The woman, who called herself Umm Sumayyah al Muhajirah, cited religious texts and the works of scholars to construct an argument for taking Yazidi women as concubines. And she dismissed reports of abuse, attributing them to “devious and wicked slave girls” who “made up lies and wrote false stories.”

And whereas sex with a Yazidi slave is permissible, she adds, prostitutes in the West “openly commit sin.”

“Leave us alone with your burping,” she wrote of people judging the slave practice.

Pinning down what each person did will be difficult

Investigators looking for clues to the individual actions of each woman, away from social media, will have a difficult time gathering evidence admissible in a court of law.

“In the U.S., we’ve had 16 people who returned that we know of, 13 have been prosecuted in federal courts, so there’s a system to do it,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But most of those were people who admitted their actions, he added. For those who don’t, investigators using Islamic State documents, for example, have to have a rock-solid chain of evidence, which is difficult to establish in the chaotic environment of a war zone.

Witnesses, often intelligence or security personnel, are often reluctant to testify in open court, and identifying women dressed in three-layer niqabs, the de rigueur face covering, will be unreliable.

Even the social media presence these women maintained is being lost. Blogging sites like Tumblr or WordPress, and messaging platforms such as Telegram, have aggressively shut down the accounts of Islamic State-affiliated users.

In any case, said Margolin, the women probably weren’t lying when they said they had been mostly concerned with family matters, but that didn’t absolve them of responsibility.

“Yes, they were wives and mothers, but what that means isn’t like what we mean when we think of a housewife,” said Margolin.

As the bearers of the group’s ideology for the next generation of fighters, she said, they were pursuing a higher objective.

“They represented,” said Margolin, “the future and permanence of Islamic State.”

Source: Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?