7 Things Former Slaves Of ISIS Want You To Know

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 ...

7
ISIS Mainly Wants Young Girls. You Can Guess Why

Lynsey Addario/The New York Times

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.

Voice of America News
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."

BBC News
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.

ISIS
Almost as upsetting is how this is one more example of how this group has their propaganda game alarmingly together.

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.

6
Many Women Volunteer To Join ISIS. Others Fight It From The Inside

ISIS

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.

Twitter
"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.

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5
They Have To Watch Their Children Being Brainwashed

ISIS

The whole "slavery" thing is excused in ISIS logic because the Yazidi aren't Muslims or "people of the book" (Christians or Jews). So part of their mission is to convert their captives. Which should be easy, since up to that point, they've had such a positive first impression of radical Islam. For two months and five days (her longest stint with any single owner), K was frequently preached to by Abu Annas, aka this dick-turtle:

ISIS
Hold off on punching your monitor for now. It gets gratifying in a bit here.

"He was working with media. Also, a lot of guys there were working in computers -- the media center." Since they were employed making new propaganda, these men spent a lot less time on the front line. K thus had the chance to get to know Abu Anas a little bit. "He told one of the women with our group who was enslaved for [sexual purposes] that he wanted her to bear him eight kids," while simultaneously "trying to teach me Islam with his wife."

And while Abu worked to convert his slave girl to a pregnant slave girl and K into a Muslim, he also tried to train her kids up as little mujahideen. "All this time, they were teaching my kids ... these kids are ten years old ... teaching them how to fight, all these things. Showing my kids video of killing people, beheading people, and abusing people. Also, around the home were all bombs and everything."

"All this time they were teaching my kids ... these kids are ten years old ... teaching them how to fight, all these things, showing my kids video of killing people, beheading people, and abusing people. Also, around the home were all bombs and everything."

ISIS
You'd think guys who wanted eight kids might care enough to keep them alive until adulthood. You'd be wrong.

After two months, K was taken to the ISIS capital of Raqqa and held with some other slaves in a prison, where, in her words, "Toilet water came down into the cell. It was dirty, no nice place ... we were in there with about 100-150 women, and about 400 kids, little kids and girls. Little girls. Like babies, in this jail."

Her next job had her commuting from jail to cook and clean for the barracks of 80 ISIS militants. "We were very tired, a lot. I said, 'Please stop, enough!' ... But they said, 'You have to be a real Muslim' ... [At all times] they are teaching us Quran, Islamic theology ... and even then, they don't let us ask for God's help in Kurdish, our language."

Side note: Last November, after K's captivity ended, Abu Annas was murdered by one of his sex slaves. In the spirit of journalistic objectivity, I want to take a moment to say, "Ha! Fuck that guy."

4
Escape Is About Overcoming Fear And Getting The Right Help

Channel 4

Most of what keeps ISIS's captives in places is fear. ISIS isn't a nation, per se. It's a huge mass of often-disorganized shitheads occupying an area the size of the United Kingdom. So while ISIS has set up security checkpoints on every major road, there are ways through them and around them for those willing to risk it. The group is fighting on too many fronts to put their best soldiers on internal guard duty, and their worst soldiers keep running away. All of this is to say that if victims can make it out of the city, they've got a fighting chance to get to safety.

If.

ISIS
If not ...

Remember, slaves know that that getting caught escaping means execution, and not necessarily a quick one -- ISIS is, of course, the group that sets captives on fire and broadcasts it live on the internet. Still, after roughly three months of sexual slavery, M and a few other young women in her house decided they had nothing to lose. They found themselves alone in the kitchen of a fighter's house as night closed in, and quickly hatched a simple plan. No elaborate disguises or tunnels -- either they'd get away or they wouldn't.

They found themselves alone in the kitchen of a fighter's house as night closed in, and quickly hatched a simple plan. No elaborate disguises or tunnels -- either they'd get away or they wouldn't.

"We turned on one kitchen light ... we opened the water, and they'd given us one mobile to listen to the music -- ISIS music." The only kind of music ISIS allows in their territory are nasheeds -- essentially a capella war chants. M turned it up and ran the water, so that any soldiers stationed elsewhere in the house would think the girls were listening to music and washing clothes. When no one was looking, they simply ... walked out. And kept walking. Across the desert, overnight, until they ran into a friendly checkpoint in Kurdistan.

K's escape, on the other hand, would not be so simple.

Magenta Vaughn/Cracked (click for larger pic)
A quiet stroll through landmine-infested desert pursued by murderous fanatics. What could possibly be simpler?

The first step was getting out from under the watchful eye of her captors just so she could start planning. Here, luck intervened. She ran into a fellow Yazidi whom ISIS had sent to the home. "They said they would bring one guy who was Kurdish to teach us Islam, sharia ... He was young, and they'd changed his mind, and he became a Muslim ... This Yazidi, I talk with him a lot, and I change his mind a little bit and convince him to give us a home alone."

K and her family now had a house to themselves, and her first real taste of privacy since the ordeal began. She was able to acquire a mobile phone and get in contact with a smuggler who specialized in getting women out of ISIS territory (for a price, that is).

Channel 4
Though considering what she was getting away from, pretty much any price would qualify as a bargain.

He sent a driver and "one Arabic woman ... in a black Islamic uniform." The next step was coming up with a cover story should they get stopped. They decided to have her play the part of a grieving widow. "She said, 'You have to put the Quran in the car, in between your legs, and be reading ... tell them we're going to visit the graveyards, dead people, and be crying' ... We visit one graveyard and cry ... We get out from the graveyard to the home of the Arabic woman."

This was a smuggler safe house. They waited until a coalition air attack provided enough of a diversion for their escape, and then, children in tow, K fled on foot and in a series of smuggler vehicles until she reached the relative freedom of a tiny tent in a Kurdish refugee camp.

So, K and M got their relatively happy endings. This was thanks largely to one particular group of badasses ...

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3
There Are Smugglers Who Dedicate Themselves To Sneaking Women Out Of ISIS Territory

Channel 4

We mentioned that the smuggler who got K out charged for his services. Others do it because they want to. Like this dude, Khaleel Al Dakhi, who is a "lawyer and civil activist," according to his business card.

Magenta Vaughn/Cracked
He also knows how to look fly as hell while smoking a cigarette.

Khaleel operates a human smuggling ring (the good kind of human smuggling ring). He's a Yazidi himself, and was a fairly prosperous attorney in a large city before the shit hit the fan. He was drawn to a more noble calling when ISIS started rolling over Yazidi territory in August of 2014. He didn't dive right into being an anti-ISIS vigilante; he started by helping refugees who'd already made it out with things like finding shelter and getting their kids into local schools. But while he was doing this, he interviewed every refugee he met and asked if they'd left anyone behind. "We collected all the names. It was around 4,500 people who were left behind, or ISIS took them."

Khaleel and his friends went the official route at first, giving the names to government workers. But the Iraqi government was sorta occupied with a war for its survival, and couldn't really do much of anything. So he took matters into his own hands.

PBS
Which is a calling so badass that we're guessing most of you read that last sentence in a movie trailer guy voice.

Step One is getting in direct contact with victims to coordinate their extraction. "We try to get information from the families, and get a phone to the girl on the other side." These days, word has gotten out that he's a man who can help -- the victims who can get to a phone often call him first. In some cases, their ISIS captors had given them SIM-less cellphones to play the aforementioned Islamic chants or Angry Birds or whatever (as in the case of M earlier). Those phones would be useless for making calls, but, "Most of the girls hid their SIM cards when [they were captured] ... in their clothes."

If Khaleel's crew doesn't get lucky with a cell phone, then it's a matter of getting in contact with neighbors, family -- anyone who can sneak a message to the captive and eventually talk to them. "We use information from the families and tell our man to explain to the girl and build some sort of trust. And then they just rescue them."

Channel 4
Which is such a ballsy understatement that we're shocked he didn't end that sentence with the Kurdish equivalent of "Whatevs."

You have to admire the use of the word "just" in that last sentence, considering he's talking about operating what is essentially an underground railroad through territory held by some of the most bloodthirsty maniacs on earth. The extraction is usually a matter of waiting for a moment when the women are alone, generally when the ISIS member holding them is off fighting at the front line. "We just park the car in the nearest place and they just go ... in some cases, the woman can go out shopping and stuff. So that would be easier for them."

"Easier" he says. Remember: If they get spotted, everyone dies.

ISIS
Not that they could ever forget, what with all the "home movies" made to intimidate people like Khaleel.

Once, when one of Khaleel's friend's daughters was captured, she managed to sneak in a call to her father. Khaleel overheard him tell her that she should kill herself. It was better, he had figured, than what ISIS had planned for her.

Once, when one of Khaleel's friend's daughters was captured, she managed to sneak in a call to her father. Khaleel overheard him tell her that she should kill herself.

Khaleel says, "I immediately stopped the guy and said, 'Give me the phone, I want to talk to her.'" Khaleel spoke with the young woman daily for weeks, convincing her to hold out and wait for help. He told her he would rescue her, but another smuggler beat him to it. She wound up spending less than three months in ISIS captivity. So that story gets a happy ending, too. But ...

2
ISIS Is Cracking Down On Smugglers, And People Are Dying

ISIS

Khaleel is the organizer and face of this little smuggling ring, but he's not the only member -- or the one most at risk. This whole operation is only possible because Khaleel works with a "secret group on the other side." And yeah, "sometimes even they get killed by ISIS. One of my friends is still under investigation by ISIS, and they're probably going to kill him too."

See, it turns out that running a human smuggling operation is a little like operating a business with multiple franchises in different cities, if all of those cities were governed by a hybrid of Hitler and Osama bin Laden. "We have some safe houses inside the city. We have cars. We have people who investigate the pathways inside the city. When they take the girl by the car, they take her to the safe house. And they also have a spare safe house in case something happens ... When we finish one operation, we change the safe house to another place, in case someone gets captured and they tell ISIS we were staying there."

U.S. Army
At least there are plenty of places to set up safe houses, since the population around Mosul has sort of thinned out lately.

When it's time to flee for Kurdistan (the safe part of Iraq), Khaleel then needs to inform friendly Kurdish soldiers and the Coalition so that the cars carrying freed slaves don't get obliterated by rocket or drone attacks.

Khaleel told me one story about an entire family he's been freeing member by member over the last two years. "When ISIS attacked their villages, there wasn't enough space inside their pickup, so they put all the children inside, and mom and dad said, 'We will walk, you take the car.' On the way up, ISIS unfortunately got the car, and the mom and dad escaped because they were walking."


Though we can't imagine how they must've felt, knowing those kids were headed for this.

Seven members of the family were captured. ISIS split them up among different homes, because that's the center square on the Slaveholding Asshole Bingo card, and Khaleel's group managed to rescue two of them in one swoop early on. Then one was killed by an airstrike on a mosque he'd been forced to pray in.

Now, "In this family, only two [captives] are left," but the task of rescuing them "is getting harder every day." In order to stop people like Khaleel, "They threaten the neighbors. If there is a girl there, they go to the neighbors and say, 'If you see something and don't tell us, maybe there will be an investigation of you. If these girls talk to someone, you should tell us. Otherwise, you will be responsible for them.'"

"If there is a girl there, they go to the neighbors and say, 'If you see something and don't tell us, maybe there will be an investigation of you. If these girls talk to someone, you should tell us. Otherwise, you will be responsible for them.'"

And they also lay traps, one of which killed some of Khaleel's inside men. One man in Kurdistan called Khaleel and told him he knew of two women who were being held in Mosul. "He wanted to rescue them. We trusted him and sent our friends to Mosul. They were waiting in the restaurant and saw the two women. They had a guy watching the place and he said ... the information is correct, two women are there."

The rescuers took the women and drove off. But the "women" were in fact two male ISIS fighters in long robes with their faces covered. "They pulled the clothes off their heads and stopped the car." Both of Khaleel's friends were executed. The part that seemed to haunt Khaleel most was the Kurdish ISIS sympathizer who led his men into the trap. "This guy sacrificed himself for ISIS to catch these guys ... [the Kurdish authorities] are going to kill him in two days."

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1
Khaleel Is Part Of The War Now

PBS

In all, Khaleel's group has rescued around 140 people from ISIS's clutches. Hundreds more have been rescued by other groups in the region. Still more have escaped on their own, and according to Khaleel, "ISIS have freed around 270 people. They were old, and ISIS said, 'Just go.'"

ISIS
If ever there as a group to feel OK about getting fired by, this'd be it.

Some smugglers charge $20,000 or more for single jobs. Khaleel says he charges just enough to cover his costs -- renting safe houses, cars, plus something for the people working on the inside. "We give them $200 each time for their personal spending. Because they don't have any job there. When they're with ISIS, ISIS doesn't do anything for them. Two hundred dollars is really good for one month for them."

Khaleel thinks there are still 6,000 Yazidi in ISIS hands, and plans to keep smuggling people out until there are no more left to smuggle. Or until, uh, someone stops him. When I asked if he was afraid he might be targeted by ISIS, he said, "If I was scared of that, I wouldn't do this work. It's OK. We rescued 140 people. If they lose someone like me, it's OK ... This is a fight. We expect to get killed or arrested. If you think about this, getting arrested or getting killed, you cannot do this."

"If I was scared of that, I wouldn't do this work. It's OK. We rescued 140 people. If they lose someone like me, it's OK ... This is a fight. We expect to get killed or arrested."

PBS
It's refreshing to know that somewhere in the world is at least one guy who is everything Liam Neeson is portrayed as.

In addition to knowing he's freeing innocent people from a living hell, he also sees this as his personal contribution to fucking over ISIS. A critical part of any successful rescue is the debriefing, where they carefully quiz freed captives about their captor's habits. "We collect information about the men. Everything. About when they're on guard, when they sleep." And, as if he needed any more motivation, "We've learned how they treat girls."

Even though he was speaking to me through an interpreter, in Kurdish, I could hear the wrath of god in Khaleel's voice as he explained, "Our girls are like an explosion in [ISIS's] house. It eventually kills them. Because when we rescue these girls, we take all their information about the people they know. First we rescue the girl, and after that, he'll get killed because of the information we gather from her." Khaleel looked down at a picture on his cell phone of a young girl he'd managed to save, and told me,

"It was a bad idea for them to take the Yazidi girls."

Magenta Vaughn/Cracked

The Yazda Organization works with Yazidi women and girls who have escaped ISIS slavery. Please donate to help them.

Robert Evans is a senior editor at Cracked and just wrote this book, A Brief History of Vice. It's about how sex, drugs and bad behavior built our civilization.

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