05 November 2016

The Guardian: “The reluctant jihadi: how one recruit lost faith in Isis”

Abu Ali had heard about the Yazidi sex slaves, though he had never encountered any himself. The men called them “sabaya”. They were mostly rewards for officers or men who had done well on the front – not for delinquents like Abu Ali. Over the next few hours he heard the girls laughing, and once he heard them sobbing. He assumed it was because they missed their families. Later that day, a shouting match erupted in the dozen or so men in Abu Ali’s guesthouse. All of them wanted the sabaya. It went on for half an hour or so, getting increasingly heated.

Then a man in fatigues burst into the guesthouse. He looked like a commander. He asked where the sabaya were, and one of the men pointed to the door of the next room. He marched in without a word. Two loud shots rang out. The man in fatigues walked out again. Abu Ali, sitting in a chair by the door, stared up at him, frozen. “What did you do?” he asked. The man seemed unruffled. “Those girls were causing trouble between the brothers, so I dealt with them”, he said. And he walked out.

Robert F Worth

More about the horrors of living under ISIS rule, from an unlikely recruit who quickly realized this was not his faith nor his place in the world and managed to escape and return to his family.

A displaced Iraqi woman from the Yazidi community
A displaced Iraqi woman from the Yazidi community. Isis sold hundreds of Yazidi women and girls into sex slavery. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

He kept fighting for Isis another six months. The disappointments accumulated. He watched as a corrupt commander evaded punishment through connections with high-ranking Isis figures. When Abu Abdullah tried to report the violations, it was he who went to jail, not the commander. Once he knew he wanted to defect, in the spring of 2015, he rode back to the al-Houta gorge one afternoon on his motorcycle. After checking to make sure no one was around, he climbed down and shot a film with his phone. It is a haunting video. In the golden afternoon light, the gorge looks a little like part of the Grand Canyon, with layered sedimentary rocks in varying tones of rusty brown and umber. The camera pans upwards, showing the fading blue sky, the silhouette of a rock formation, and then down towards the black hole at the bottom. You can see corpses strewn at various places on the way down. Some are very close to the camera, and some have rolled down towards the pit. The film unfolds in silence, apart from the occasional grinding of Abu Abdullah’s shoes on the stones and sand. It goes on for more than five minutes, and at a certain point you begin to wonder why he is continuing to film the same motionless scene for so long. Then it dawns: the camera is reflecting his own preoccupation. This is a place he cannot forget.

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