You probably know ISIS as the nefarious terrorist organization responsible for the attacks in Belgium, Paris, and San Bernardino, California. They're basically Cobra, if Cobra actually killed people and the part of G.I. Joe was played by ... well, nobody at all, really.
But over in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is less about occasional mass murder and more about daily atrocities inflicted on victims in the territories they occupy. For example, they particularly like taking young girls as sex slaves. And in many cases, the only hope for these girls is a select group of local citizens who risk everything to sneak them out.
I went to Northern Iraq (no, really) and talked to two former ISIS slaves and one of those Liam Neeson-esque rescuers for Part 2 of our series, "Holy Shit, Cracked Sent Someone To Previously Occupied ISIS Territory. Dude, That's Fucked Up. Why Would They Do That." I found that ...
7ISIS Mainly Wants Young Girls. You Can Guess Why
Our first source, M, was 17 when ISIS captured her. Her sin was that she's not a Muslim -- she's a Yazidi, part of a religious minority in the region. She escaped her home in August of 2014, when ISIS was blitzkrieging its way across the Yazidi heartland near Mt. Sinjar in Iraq. M took refuge in an old fort on the mountain, but was quickly captured and taken to the nearby town of Tel Afar. Several thousand of her people would meet a similar fate.
ISIS tends to use old school buses to transport their human stock, and then stash them in abandoned public buildings. M's first stop was a former school. "There were a lot of people -- full of people. Kids, women, and girls. But no men." After a few days, she was moved to Badosh prison in the ISIS-occupied city of Mosul. Her transit was interrupted several times by air strikes, which is probably the only situation in which being interrupted by air strikes could be a good thing.
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It's a rough day when a wayward missile is the least of your worries.
Eventually, ISIS's local emir took seven of the girls, including M, for himself. She described being sexually assaulted twice just in the process of getting handed over to him.
Our second source for this article, K, had the same story as M up to their trips to the prison in Mosul. At that point K, as a middle-aged woman with kids, was placed in a separate group. Her role would be to essentially serve as a non-consensual butler, cleaning up after jihadists in the hope that they wouldn't murder her or her children. "It was summer. There was not enough food, not enough water. After we spent three days in prison, there was an airstrike on the prison. They fed us expired food, and rice that contained pieces of, like ... glass."
"It was summer. There was not enough food, not enough water. After we spent three days in prison, there was an airstrike on the prison. [They fed us] expired food, and rice that contained pieces of, like ... glass."
Accommodations in war-torn Iraq can be a little rough.
After this, K was taken to a nearby village ISIS had cleansed of all its Shia inhabitants, and she and several other captives were told to clean the war crimes out of the place. "We cleaned and washed seven homes, and we spent many days sleeping in the road of the village, because the homes were ... the smell was very bad."
Our interpreter clarified that K believed the smell came from "dead bodies" in the surrounding homes, although neither she nor any of her fellow slaves were exactly willing to go inside and check (in the month before they captured K, ISIS boasted of killing more than 1,700 Shia civilians in Iraq). After this, K was taken by two ISIS men, Abu Huata and Abu Fuad. You can watch Abu Fuad cut a man's head off in this video if you've given up all hope of sleeping this month.
K was only in those men's custody for a few days, until they reached a city called Dier ez-Zor and she became part of a packaged gift to a group of soldiers. "They said to their soldiers, 'This is for you -- if you like it, you can take it for yourself also.'" An Egyptian militant decided that he wanted her for his home, and agreed to take her and her children. K begged the emir giving her away, "Can I just bring one woman, a relative, so I don't have to go alone? And the ISIS leader, from Libya, he accept that."
At this point, I've spoken with dozens of people who've lived under ISIS control, many of them for more than a year, and that's the nicest thing I've heard of an ISIS emir doing.
6Many Women Volunteer To Join ISIS. Others Fight It From The Inside
So K passed the first year of her captivity cooking and cleaning for an assortment of ISIS households, watching her children be indoctrinated via jihadist propaganda, and trying not to go crazy. Eventually, she wound up in the Islamic State's capital, Raqqa. They were taken to a place called Madafat, filled with the last thing you'd expect to find in an ISIS stronghold: lots and lots of eager women who had voluntarily flocked to the Islamic State from all over the world. "Turkish, French (most of them French), women from Britain ... also Morocco. Somalian. Egyptian."
Yes, young Western women have proved to be one of ISIS's best recruiting methods. They spend hours on Twitter giving advice to other young women who seek the explosion-filled joys of the Islamic State, and complaining about people who don't follow the rules hard enough.
"Speak good" may be debatable.
ISIS has a number of jobs for their female volunteers: enforcing their terrible laws, manning checkpoints to make sure men don't sneak by dressed as women, and, mostly, giving birth to lots of babies. Some of these ladies made life very difficult for K. "One woman from Morocco, she was very bad. She gave us an Islamic uniform for praying. They don't accept us wearing other clothes, our own clothes. She said to us, 'You will never go home again. You have to marry an ISIS man here.'"
"She said to us, 'You will never go home again. You have to marry an ISIS man here.'"
At that point, the regular airstrikes forced the women to move again, this time to a hotel "with a lot of floors. We're thinking to fall down and commit suicide -- to jump off. But because of our kids, we cannot."
But then K ran into a woman -- a Yazidi like herself -- who reminded her that even in Hell, you can find heroes. When the men were finding her a new owner (there's a lot of turnover in masters, since they keep exploding) threatened to split her up from her kids, "[The woman] made a gift of herself for ISIS ... to make ISIS not separate us to other places." In other words, a fellow slave, who had not known K before their shared captivity, volunteered to be raped by three ISIS fighters in order to convince them to keep K and her kids together.
Our other former captive, M, got help from the mother of an ISIS fighter. "This woman, she gave us [a disguise], and also she called one guy, and this guy drove us to get out from Mosul. But when we get out from Mosul, ISIS called the driver who took us. They told him, 'If you want to get them out, we'll capture your family.' Because the driver's family was still in Mosul."
So the driver took them back to the ISIS stronghold. She believes that he and his mother were both executed for it.