By Mark Ellis
At only 14 she was captured from her dusty village on the western Ninevah plains by ISIS fighters, then given as a bride – a trophy of war — to one of their 50-year-old commanders. By God’s grace, she was able to escape one Friday evening, while he bowed before Allah in the mosque.
On Aug. 3, relatives called Narin’s* family with alarming news: ISIS fighters were approaching their quiet village, Tel Uzer. Fearing the worst, her Yazidi family fled on foot, carrying only their clothes and a few valuables, according to Narin’s firsthand account told to The Washington Post.
Their immediate thought was to take refuge on Mount Sinjar, along with thousands of other Yazidis, because they heard the descriptions of ISIS brutality and what they had done to non-Muslims. But they never made it to Mount Sinjar.
“Suddenly several vehicles drew up and we found ourselves surrounded by militants wearing Islamic State uniforms. Several people screamed in horror; we were scared for our lives. I’ve never felt so helpless in my 14 years. They had blocked our path to safety, and there was nothing we could do,” Narin told The Post.
The ISIS fighters divided their captives by gender and age: One group was comprised of younger, more capable men, another group composed of girls and young women, and a third held older men and women.
“The jihadists stole cash and jewelry from this last group,” Narin recounted, “and left them alone at the oasis. Then they placed the girls and women in trucks. As they drove us away, we heard gunshots. Later we learned that they were killing the young men.”
Narin was taken to an empty school in a small town west of Mosul near the Syrian border. “We met many other Yazidi women who were captured by Islamic State. Their fathers, brothers and husbands had also been killed,” she told The Post.
One of the ISIS fighters entered the room where the women were kept and shouted, “I testify that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet. If you repeat this, you will become Muslims,” he said.
But the Yazidi women refused. “They were furious. They insulted us a lot and cursed us and our beliefs,” Narin said.
Several days later, they were taken to a large hall full of more Yazidi girls and women, at ISIS’s headquarters in Mosul.
“Some of the fighters were my age,” Narin noted. “They told us we were pagans and confined us for 20 days inside the building, where we slept on the floor and ate only once per day. Every now and then, an Islamic State man would come in and tell us to convert, but each time we refused. As faithful Yazidis, we would not abandon our religion. We wept a lot and mourned the losses suffered by our community.”
One day, the guards separated the married from unmarried women. Then the unthinkable happened. Narin and her childhood friend Shayma were given as gifts to ISIS fighters, for their use as wives or concubines.
“Shayma was awarded to Abu Hussein, who was a cleric. I was given to an overweight, dark-bearded man about 50 years old who seemed to have some high rank. He went by the nickname Abu Ahmed. They drove us down to their home in Fallujah,” she told The Post.
The house they were taken to “looked like a palace” in the young woman’s estimation, probably another of the spoils of war that once belonged to a wealthy family before Fallujah fell to the terrorists.
“Abu Ahmed kept telling me to convert, which I ignored,” Narin said. “He tried to rape me several times, but I did not allow him to touch me in any sexual way. Instead, he cursed me and beat me every day, punching and kicking me. He fed me only one meal per day. Shayma and I began to discuss killing ourselves.”
The two young women were allowed to call their families once. They learned their families made it to Mount Sinjar, where ISIS surrounded them and tried to starve them to death. After five days under siege, Kurdish rescue forces evacuated them to Syria and then back to northern Iraq.
On their sixth day in Fallujah, Narin’s captor left to conduct business in Mosul, while Shayma’s captor stayed behind. But at sunset, he went to the mosque for prayers, while he left the two girls locked inside the house.
Using a cellphone, they contacted a Sunni friend of Shayma’s cousin, who lived in Fallujah, and asked for help. He said it would be too dangerous for him to attempt a rescue at the house.
But how could they break free? “Shayma and I used kitchen knives and meat cleavers to break the locks of two doors to get out. Wearing traditional long black abayas that we found in the house, we walked for 15 minutes through town, which was quiet for evening prayers.”
Then Shayma’s friend, Mahmoud, came and picked them up on the street and took them to his home.
That night, he fed the two girls and gave them a place to sleep. The next morning, he recruited a cab driver to take them on the two-hour trip to Baghdad.
“The driver said he was afraid of Islamic State but offered to help us for God’s sake. We dressed like local women and covered our faces with a niqab, leaving only our eyes visible. Mahmoud gave us fake student IDs in case we were stopped at checkpoints.”
It was a fretful journey. “I had never felt so much anxiety,” Narin told The Post. “At each checkpoint, I was sure we’d be discovered. At one — I cannot recall if it was controlled by Islamic State or Iraqi forces — Mahmoud bribed the guards to let us through. We had contacted Yazidi and Muslim Kurdish family friends to help us in Baghdad, and I cannot describe the dizzy sense of relief I felt when we arrived at their house.”
In Baghdad, family friends gave them another pair of fake ID cards that enabled them to board a flight to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region.
By God’s grace they were safe once more. “I still couldn’t believe we were free until our plane touched the ground. After so much fear for so many days, hugging my dad again was the best moment of my life. He said he had cried for me every day since I disappeared.”
That evening, Narin was reunited with her mother and other relatives. “We hugged and kept crying until then I fainted. My month-long ordeal was over, and I felt reborn.”
Later, she heard the sad news that ISIS had shot her 19-year-old, newly wed brother at the oasis where they were first detained. Her sister-in-law, “a very beautiful woman,” is still being held captive somewhere in Mosul.
“Now I am trying to come to terms with what happened,” she told The Post. “I can never again set foot in our little village, even if it’s freed from Islamic State, because the memory of my brother who died nearby would haunt me too much. I still have nightmares and swoon several times a day — when I remember what I saw or imagine what would have happened if Shayma and I hadn’t escaped.”
“What can I do? I want to leave this country altogether. This country is no place for me anymore. I want to go to a place where I might be able to start over, if that is even possible.”
*name changed at Narin’s request, to protect her and other victims from reprisal; many of her relatives are still in captivity.