The woman was just 19 years old when she was captured by militants from the Islamic State. Caring for her young son and pregnant with her second child, she was separated from her husband and told that she would be forced to marry a member of ISIS.
Her harrowing story is not unique, but the fact that she escaped places her in the minority of those who face the similar terror of life as an ISIS captive.
The woman’s name, and that of the village where she is staying with her two children, cannot be revealed for security reasons. CNA met her during a trip to Iraq with a papal delegation led by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum March 26-29.
On the wooden door of the room where the woman speaks with the pontifical delegation, a phrase in English is embossed: “God is Lord.” The woman holds her son in the hands, while her mother-in-law is taking care of the younger child, who is now four months. Her brother-in-law sits on her right.
She sometimes takes a deep breath, and sometimes holds back her tears, as if she is living once more what happened. But she agreed to tell her story, because she wants everyone to know what happened.
In early August, Islamic State forces attacked Mahmur camp, a U.N.-run refugee camp home to some 12,000 Turkish refugees who fled in the early 1990s during the height of Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish separatists. Mahmur is located in the vicinity of Erbil, and the residents there had established a school system and local government.
The attack was one of several similar military attacks in the region, part of ISIS’ major Northern Iraq offensive in the summer of 2014.
The woman said that she was taken by Islamic State militants on Aug. 5.
“As we had been aware that the ISIS forces were coming, we managed to escape,” the woman told CNA. “But those who had no opportunity to use a car moved more slowly, remained behind, and were then captured by the ISIS forces.”
She and her family were among some 3,100 people captured by the Islamic State. Of them, approximately 600 managed to escape while about 2,500 remained in the hands of Islamic State forces.
The woman recounted that “they divided into groups of male and female.”
“I was thus separated from my husband, and I have had no news of him ever since.”
After three days, Islamic State militants selected the married women and brought them into separate houses, where they stayed alone under the control of guards.
“After a couple of weeks of captivity, I was told by one of the guards that if I did not marry one of the ISIS members, they would have separate me from my child,” the woman recounted. “That very night I managed to escape.”
During the night of Aug. 28, the three guards watching her fell asleep, and she took advantage of the situation to get out of the house.
“I walked for four hours with my child, and myself pregnant. Then I was helped by an Arab family, who took me to the Peshmerga checkpoint, and I was then able to get to a refugee camp,” she said.
She then rejoined her brother-in-law and mother-in-law, who now all live together in the Dohuk governorate.
The woman’s brother-in-law told CNA: “We will always be grateful to the Peshmerga forces for helping us, but now we cannot trust anyone else. We would only trust an international force, sent to Iraq to end the war and bring finally peace.”