Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—A young Yazidi woman who escaped captivity in an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) prison has described her ordeal in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.
Layla, 23, was taken from the village of Qani near Mount Sinjar along with other women in her family, and managed to escape while being transferred to Badosh Prison, northwest of Mosul.
“ISIS came into our village after they took control of Sinjar. The insurgents detained all residents and separated the men from the women,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat via mobile phone from Mosul.
She says the men were told to leave the village and head to the mountain, and that they would not be killed. “The men set off for the mountain and the insurgents opened fire on them, killing them all. My eldest brother was among those killed. I saw my father severely injured, but we have heard nothing about him since,” Layla said.
The last two weeks have seen hundreds of Yazidi women captured by ISIS in Sinjar and its surrounding villages in northwest Iraq. Following the mass executions of Yazidi men by ISIS, the extremist organization rounded up the remaining women and children and brought them to Mosul and Tal Afar.
“They forced all the women onto two trucks. My family consisted of nine women and eight children; they took us towards the Badosh Prison near Mosul. On the way there, they told us they wanted us as wives for their insurgents and said you girls will be distributed among our men, one girl for each man,” she adds.
Layla says she escaped as the trucks came to a standstill at the prison and the women were moved. “I started running in fear until I reached Mosul. I went to the first house I found and knocked on the door. They opened the door, they were an Arab family. I told them that I had escaped from ISIS.”
Layla is still in hiding with the family that took her in. She hopes to make it to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region where one of her brothers—who was not in the village when the group attacked— took refuge.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Layla’s mother, who is still trapped inside Badosh Prison. She was able to make contact as she managed to smuggle her phone inside. She is being held with two of Layla’s sisters, two daughters-in-law and eight children, along with dozens of other Yazidi women.
Layla’s mother, who is nearly 70, said: “After arriving at the prison, ISIS insurgents took away my other two girls to an unknown destination with other girls, and I do not know anything about them.” She says all women between the ages of 10 and 30 were taken to another location. Her two daughters are 18 and 20 years old.
“As for me, my two daughters-in-law and the eight children, we are in a prison cell which is packed with women. No one can stretch their legs due to the large number of detainees in the cell,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Layla’s mother says the militants have told them they will be transferred to Tal Afar. “They say they will give each family a home and phones to call our relatives and tell them to come and visit to transfer everyone to the new homes in Tal Afar. They say: ‘If you convert to Islam we will treat you with the utmost respect’,” she said.
She says that the militants brought over dozens of women from the Yazidi village of Kocho after their men were killed. The attack on Kocho on August 15 has been described as a massacre by Kurdish officials.
She said there were a small number of men at the prison who were separated from the women in another cell.
Layla’s mother claimed that some of the ISIS militants speak Kurdish: “The fighters speak to us in Iraqi dialect; we have not seen any foreign insurgents so far, but there are two armed men who speak to us in Sorani–Kurdish [spoken in southern areas of Kurdistan], and there are other insurgents who we recognized as Muslim Kurds from Sinjar; they speak in Kurmanji–Kurdish [spoken in the northern areas of Kurdistan].”