Sold by Daesh in Raqqa, Yazidi female fighters back for revenge

Heza, a member of the Shengal Women's Units (YPS), a group of women fighters from Iraq's northeastern Sinjar region supporting the Women's Protection Units (YPG), prepares her rifle on the eastern outskirts of Raqa, during the ongoing offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to retake the city from Daesh fighters. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2017
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Sold by Daesh in Raqqa, Yazidi female fighters back for revenge

RAQQA, Syria: She was trafficked into Raqqa as a sex slave by Daesh but managed to escape. Now Yazidi fighter Heza is back to avenge the horrors she and thousands of others suffered.
Her hair tucked under a tightly wrapped forest green shawl embroidered with flowers, Heza says battling Daesh in its Syrian bastion has helped relieve some of her trauma.
“When I started fighting, I lifted some of the worries from my heart,” she says, surrounded by fellow Yazidi militia women in Raqqa’s eastern Al-Meshleb district.
“But it will be full of revenge until all the women are freed.”
She and her two sisters were among thousands of women and girls from the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi minority taken hostage by Daesh as it swept into Iraq’s Sinjar region in August 2014.
The women were sold and traded across the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Around 3,000 are believed to remain in captivity, including one of Heza’s sisters.
“When the Yazidi genocide happened, Daesh snatched up the women and girls. I was one of them,” Heza recounts.
The UN has qualified the massacres Daesh carried out against the Yazidis during the Sinjar attack as genocide.
Daesh separated Yazidi females from the men in Sinjar, bringing the women and girls into Raqqa.
“They took us like sheep. They chased us and humiliated us in these very streets,” Heza said, gesturing to a row of heavily damaged homes in Al-Meshleb.
The eastern district was the first neighborhood captured from Daesh by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, in their months-long offensive to seize the jihadist bastion.
SDF officials said that their forces had already rescued several female Yazidi captives, including a 10-year-old girl, since they entered Raqqa city in June.
Over the course of her 10-month captivity in Raqqa, Heza was bought by five different Daesh fighters.
Her voice strained but her brown eyes still sharp, the young fighter says she prefers not to detail the abuses she suffered.
But in an indication of the extent of her trauma, Heza — whose name means “strength” in Kurdish — says she tried to commit suicide several times.
Finally, in May 2015, she escaped from the home where she was being held to a nearby market, and she found a Syrian Kurdish family who smuggled her out of the city.
She traveled around 400 kilometers across war-ravaged northeast Syria back into Iraq to join the Shengal Women’s Units (YPS).
The YPS — named after the Kurdish word for Sinjar — is a part of the US-backed SDF.
Heza underwent intensive weapons training, and when the SDF announced its fight for Raqqa in November 2016, she and other YPS fighters were ready.
“When the Raqqa offensive began, I wanted to take part in it for all the Yazidi girls who were sold here in these streets,” she says.
“My goal is to free them, to avenge them.”
The SDF spent months tightening the noose around Raqqa before breaking into the city in June, and the YPS took up their first positions in Al-Meshleb several weeks later.
It was the first time Heza was back in the northern Syrian city since her escape.
“When I entered Raqqa, I had a strange, indescribable feeling. Despite the enormous pain that I carry, I felt joy,” the fighter says.
Rifles are lined up in neat rows inside the abandoned home used by the YPS as their base in Al-Meshleb.
Yazidi women in brand-new uniforms gather around a crackling walkie-talkie for news from the front.
Some of them, like 20-year-old Merkan, have traveled far to join the fight against Daesh.
Her family is originally Yazidi Turkish, but Merkan and her 24-year-old sister Arin were raised in Germany.
When they heard about Daesh’s infamous sweep into Sinjar in 2014, they were outraged.
“I could never have imagined a world like this. I didn’t expect things like this could happen,” Merkan says.
“I was in so much pain,” says the tall militiawoman.
Her older sister decided to travel to Sinjar in late 2014 to join the YPS, and Merkan followed in early 2015.
“I only had one goal in front of me: Liberating the Yazidi women, and all women who were still in Daesh’s clutches.”
She had scribbled a similar pledge in Kurdish on a wall behind her.
“Through strength and struggle, we Yazidi women fighters came to Raqqa to take revenge for the Aug. 3 massacre,” the graffiti says, referring to when Daesh entered Sinjar.
“We are avenging Yazidi girls,” it adds.
“Yesterday there was Al-Qaeda and today there’s Daesh. We don’t know who will come next. I want to go anywhere there is injustice,” Merkan said.
Fellow fighter Basih is sitting quietly in a neighboring room, chain-smoking cigarettes in the muggy July afternoon.
“We suffered the ugliest forms of injustice. Our revenge will be proportional to it,” she said.


US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard on top of a building on February 17, 2019, in the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz. (AFP)
Updated 48 min 36 sec ago
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US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

  • Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it wanted to ensure foreign terrorists remain off the battlefield as it weighed options on an American detained in Syria who says she wants to return home.
The United States has urged European powers to take back hundreds of their citizens who fought with the Daesh group in Syria, but acknowledged the situation was complex in the rare case of an American terrorist.
Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old from Alabama who became a prominent online agitator for the extremists, said in an interview published Sunday with The Guardian that she had been brainwashed online and “deeply regrets” joining the movement.
While declining to discuss Muthana’s case specifically, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said that the status of US citizens detained in Syria “is by definition extremely complicated.”
“We’re looking into these cases to better understand the details,” he told reporters.
Palladino said that the United States generally did not see a different solution between what to do with US fighters and with foreigners, saying the fighters pose “a global threat.”
“Repatriating these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin, ensuring that they are prosecuted and detained — that’s the best solution, preventing them from returning to the battlefield,” he said.
The situation of foreign terrorists detained by US-allied Kurdish forces has taken a new urgency as President Donald Trump plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces say they may have to refocus on fighting Turkey, which has vowed to crush Kurdish fighters it links to separatists at home.
Trump has contemplated reopening the US military base at Guantanamo Bay to take in new foreign inmates, while Britain on Tuesday revoked the citizenship of a female terrorsist who wanted to return home with her newborn baby.
Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution.
Muthana, who was married three times to terrorists and has a son with one of her husbands, fled her family in 2014 to join the Daesh group in Syria, where she took to Twitter to urge attacks on fellow Americans.
In the interview with The Guardian, Muthana said that she was “really young and ignorant” when she joined Daesh and has since renounced radicalism.
“I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East,” she told the newspaper.
Hassan Shilby, a lawyer for Muthana, told ABC television’s “Good Morning America” that the young woman had been “brainwashed and manipulated” and is “absolutely disgusted” by the person she became.