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Islamic State militants press female captives to marry, Yazidis say

Liz Sly

The Washington Post

Published: Saturday, Aug. 16 2014 11:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, Aug. 16 2014 10:28 p.m. MDT

DAHUK, IRAQ — Hundreds of Yazidi women who were captured by Islamic militants during their sweep through the town of Sinjar are being incarcerated at scattered locations across northern Iraq in what increasingly looks like a deliberate attempt to co-opt them into service as the wives of fighters.

As the militants with the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State surged into the area from surrounding Arab villages two weeks ago, snaring those who had not managed to flee, they showed a marked interest in detaining women, notably the youngest and prettiest, according to witnesses, relatives and in some instances the women themselves.

Women were separated from men, then younger women were separated from older ones and most were shunted off in buses or trucks.

Once in custody, the women are presented with a bleak choice.

Those who convert to Islam can be promised a good life, with a house of their own and — implicitly — a Muslim husband, because the interpretation of Islam promoted by the Islamic State does not permit women to live alone.

Otherwise, they have been told, they can expect a life of indefinite imprisonment — or, they fear, death.

The accounts of the women's capture and detention have been assembled from multiple interviews with Yazidi refugees, witnesses, activists and women who have been able to reach out to the outside world using cellphones they were carrying when they were detained. The identities of the women, and some of the specifics of their accounts and communications, are being withheld to protect them from being discovered by their captors.

The accounts point to a deliberate effort to harness the women into the service of the Islamic State's project to create a caliphate across the Muslim world, by persuading them to convert and then marrying them to the men of the group.

The women "are considered apostate, and it is halal [forbidden] for Muslims to marry a non-Muslim," said Hoshyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish leader who until recently served as Iraq's foreign minister. He puts the number of women detained at more than 1,000.

"Many fighters came from foreign places without wives, so they want the women to convert so that they can become brides of the jihadis," he said.

Exactly how many women have been caught up in the dragnet is unclear. The Iraqi government claims that 1,500 women have been detained and 500 men executed in the brutal blitz by the extremists through the Sinjar area, where a majority of the residents are Yazidis but some are Christian, Shiite or Sunni Arab.

Women from other sects also have been detained, but the majority of the captives appear to be Yazidis, whose beliefs are considered heretical by the Islamist extremists.

The Sinjar Crisis Group, formed by Yazidi activists in Washington, has compiled a list of 1,074 names of female captives reported by their relatives to be in the custody of the Islamic State.

On Saturday, 100 or so women joined the list, turning up crammed into two buses at a school in the town of Tal Afar, where hundreds of the women are already being held, according to an eyewitness. The new arrivals had been detained the previous day in the small village of Kocho, where Kurdish officials and Yazidis say that more than 80 men were lined up and shot before the younger women were separated from the older ones and taken away.

The oldest of the women in Kocho were not detained but are being held there by Islamic State fighters who also spared the oldest men, said Ziad Sinjari, a Kurdish peshmerga commander in Sinjar, citing the account of one of six survivors of the massacre who escaped injured to a nearby village.

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