Enslaved, sold, raped: My life as an ISIS sex slave
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
NADIA Murad grew up dreaming of owning a beauty salon.
The youngest of 11 children in a Yazidi family in northwest Iraq, she took photographs of all the brides in her tiny village, studying their make-up and hair. Her favourite was of a brunette woman with curls piled high atop her head.
But after Islamic State overtook her village in August 2014, that dream died. Ms Murad was captured, enslaved, sold, raped and tortured alongside thousands of her people in an effort to decimate their religion.
IS didn't entirely succeed, however. Ms Murad, 24, managed a miraculous escape and is now a Nobel Peace Prize nominee fighting for freedom and justice for her people.
Her new book, "The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State" (Tim Duggan Books), out now, tells the story of how she and her family were living peacefully in the farming community of Kocho, near the Syrian border, when IS first rose to power. Her clan came from a long line of sheep herders and wheat farmers, residing in a house made of mud-brick rooms "lined up like beads on a necklace and connected by doorways with no doors".
In the summer her family, including Ms Murad's mother, eight brothers and two sisters, stretched out on mattresses on the roof of their house, whispering to one another until they fell asleep under the moon.
But three years ago, on August 14, after a two-week siege, IS ordered the entire population of Kocho to a schoolyard, where they asked the local leader if the villagers would convert to Islam. Yazidism is one of the oldest faiths in Mesopotamia, dating back 6000 years, and has elements in common with many religions of the Middle East: Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism.
Adherents don't believe in hell or Satan and pray to a fallen angel, whom they call Tawusi Melek, who came down to Earth and challenged God, only to be forgiven and returned to heaven. This belief has given the Yazidi people a reputation among radical Muslims as devil worshippers.
As a result, followers, who have no formal holy book of their own, have often been the target of genocidal impulses. (Before IS, outside powers, including the Ottomans and other radical Islamic sects, had tried to destroy them 73 times, Ms Murad writes in her book.)
The local leader told the IS commander that they would never convert, believing his people would then be evacuated to a nearby town. Instead, the men of the village were loaded on to trucks, ordered to dig a shallow grave and executed in one afternoon.
The women, still in the schoolyard, could hear the shots just a short distance away. The older women and children were separated from the younger women. Ms Murad was ripped away from her mother, whom she would never see again.
On the way out of town, Ms Murad, who was 21, screamed in an effort to stop one of the soldiers from grabbing her breast each time he walked by her on the bus. "Why did you scream?" a militant asked Ms Murad. "I was scared," she told him. "This guy ... touched me."
"What do you think you are here for?" asked the commander. "You are an infidel, a sabiyya [sex slave] and you belong to the Islamic State now, so get used to it."
Then he spat in her face, took out a cigarette and extinguished it on her shoulder. He lit another one and put it out on her stomach. Then he slapped her twice across the face and warned: "Never make another sound again."
In the dark, crowded room of a home where she and the other women were being held, Ms Murad asked what awaited her; another woman who had been there longer told her to look for the stains on the bathroom wall where others had tried to kill themselves rather than be sold as slaves.
"You can see the blood high on the walls where the cleaners don't notice," the woman told her. "The small reddish-brown stains high up on the tiles were all that was left of some Yazidi girls who had come before me," wrote Ms Murad.
She had never heard of IS before they came to her village and had no idea that the group had been planning her fate for a long time. "Attacking Kocho and taking girls to use as sex slaves wasn't a spontaneous decision," she wrote.
"IS planned it all: how they would come into our homes, what made a girl more or less valuable, which militants deserved a sabiyya as incentive and which should pay."
She paraphrases an Islamic State pamphlet which stated that "Sabiyya can be given as gifts and sold at the whim of the owner, for they are merely property." Ms Murad wrote: "An owner can have sex with a prepubescent slave, it says, if she is 'fit for intercourse.' "
Sitting in a house surrounded by men with guns, the young woman contemplated killing herself. Instead, she made a pact with her two older sisters, Dimal and Adke. "We would … take the first opportunity to escape," she wrote.
When an enormous man with calves "as thick as tree trunks" selected Ms Murad as his slave, she screamed and tried to pull away. "His eyes were sunk deep into the flesh of his wide face … He didn't look like a man - he looked like a monster."
When she spied a skinnier man's calves from her place on the ground, she begged him to take her, hoping his slight size might save her. "She's mine," the skinny man told the larger man. And that was that.
Ms Murad was registered as a slave - complete with a photo ID that would be dispersed among the fighters if she were to run away - and taken to the home of her new owner, a high-ranking IS judge named Hajji Salman.
"You're my fourth sabiyya," he told her. "The other three are Muslim now. I did that for them. Yazidis are infidels - that's why we are doing this. It's to help you."
Hajji Salman told her to shower, put on a dress that came only to her knee - an immodest change from her normal wardrobe - and use hair-removal cream all over her body.
"I stood in front of the bathroom mirror. I knew that if I didn't wear any make-up, I would be punished, so I looked through the pile [left for me] ... Normally [my niece] and I would have been thrilled at the new make-up, which was a brand I recognised and could very rarely afford.
"We would have stood in front of the bedroom mirror, painting our eyelids different colours, surrounding our eyes with thick lines of kohl, and covering our freckles with foundation. At Hajji Salman's, I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. I put on some pink lipstick and eye make-up - just enough, I hoped, to avoid being beaten."
When he raped her, "He was loud enough for all the guards to hear - he shouted as if he wanted all of Mosul to know that he was finally raping his sabiyya - and no one interfered. His touch was exaggerated, forceful, meant to hurt me ... I was like a child, crying out for my mother," Ms Murad wrote.
"He hit me when he was displeased with the way I cleaned the house, when he was angry about something from work, if I cried or kept my eyes closed while he raped me," she wrote.
He humiliated her, spreading honey on his toes and making her lick it off. And he always warned her: "It you try [to escape], you will regret it, I promise you. The punishment won't be good."
She tried anyway. She put on an abaya, the robe-like covering that devout Muslim women wear, and crawled out a window. A guard saw her. Hajji Salman was summoned, and he whipped Ms Murad's naked body and then let his sentry - six of them - gang-rape her until she was unconscious.
The last thing she saw before blacking out was one of the guards placing his glasses on a table before he climbed into her bed.
Over the next week, she was passed to six other men who raped and beat her, before being given to one who planned on taking her to Syria. But first he needed to buy her more clothing.
Left alone for the first time in two weeks, she impulsively tried the front door. It didn't budge. But Ms Murad gave it one last shove and "nearly fell over when it swung open." Her captor had, for reasons unknown, left it unlocked.
She started walking and didn't stop. Dressed in the abaya, with her face covered like other Muslim women, she wasn't an obvious target, although she was shaking and could barely breathe she was so terrified. She walked all evening and into the night. When she arrived at the outskirts of town, the poorer section, she felt slightly calmer.
"If any Sunni in Mosul was going to help me, it was most likely to be a poor Sunni, maybe a family who had stayed only because they didn't have the money to leave," Ms Murad reasoned.
She spied a house that looked vaguely like her own back in Kocho and knocked on the door.
"I beg you, help me," she said, not knowing if she had been saved or was about to be destroyed.
One of the men grabbed her and pulled her into the house. "It's safer in here," he said. "You shouldn't talk about those kinds of things outside."
The clan, who despised IS, let her stay with them for a few days while they prepared a plan: One of the sons, Nasser, would drive her out of IS territory; if anyone asked, he would pretend to be her husband. The plan worked.
Using fake IDs and a cover story about visiting family in Kurdish-held Iraq, Ms Murad and Nasser made it past the many checkpoints until she was reunited with two of her brothers at a refugee camp.
Ms Murad's struggle wasn't over yet. As news filtered in with new arrivals to the camp, she eventually learned what had happened to her other loved ones. Her mother had been shot and buried in a shallow grave along with 85 other Yazidi women.
Five of her brothers had been executed. Her nephew had been kidnapped by IS and would be brainwashed into fighting for them. Her two sisters were still in captivity.
Luckily, another one of her brothers was found in a hospital nearby. Ms Murad refused to tell her three surviving brothers the details of her ordeal, knowing it would torment them to think of their wives, still in captivity, being raped. "I cried every day. When I dreamed, it was always about being returned to IS and having to escape again."
At the refugee camp, Ms Murad told a few reporters her story. When Murad Ismael, the executive director of Yazda, a Yazidi advocacy group, was looking for a refugee to tell her story to the UN Security Council, he asked Ms Murad and she agreed.
More than a year later she was flown across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and landed in New York, where she made a speech before the UN.
Poised and calm in front of a crowd of world leaders, she stated: "You are the ones to decide whether another girl, just like me, in a different part of the world, will be able to lead a simple life or will be forced to live in suffering and bondage."
It was a turning point. "I believe Nadia's speech raised awareness about the tyranny of ISIS, and they are retreating now, shrinking," Ismael told The Post. "I attribute some of the world standing up to ISIS to Nadia and people like her, who spoke bravely."
Humanitarian lawyer Amal Clooney now represents Ms Murad and other Yazidi survivors before the UN. In August, the Security Council passed a resolution to appoint independent investigators to collect evidence of Islamic State crimes, the first step toward holding the group accountable for its mass executions.
But, says Ismael, "I am not sure if it will happen. Unless there is giant effort, many will get away with their crimes."
More than 3000 women and children are still enslaved and 300,000 Yazidis are displaced. Ms Murad is now living in a town near Stuttgart, Germany, through a program that took in 1100 Yazidi refugees in 2015.
In September 2016, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime appointed her a goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking. She was also nominated for a Nobel and named one of Time magazine's most influential people in 2016.
(Her two sisters were also finally liberated from IS; Dimal, 33, lives with Ms Murad in Germany, while Adke, 30, is in a Kurdistan refugee camp.)
Now Ms Murad is hoping her book will reach an even wider audience than her speech before the UN. All proceeds from the book's sales will go toward supporting survivors and bringing IS to justice.
"I think there was a reason God helped me escape ... and I don't take my freedom for granted," she wrote. "The terrorists didn't think that Yazidi girls would have the courage to tell the world every detail of what they did to us.
"We defy them by not letting their crimes go unanswered. Every time I tell my story, I feel that I am taking some power away from the terrorists."
This article originally appeared in the New York Post and has been republished with permission.