When the Islamic State swept into northern Iraq in 2014, thousands of Yazidis were killed and kidnapped, including women and girls who were taken as sex slaves.
Nadia Murad was one of them. Three years after escaping militants in northern Iraq, Murad is telling her story in a harrowing memoir called “The Last Girl.”
Murad’s disturbing personal account is part of her effort, represented by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, to bring Islamic State members to justice for war crimes and genocide against the Yazidi people.
U.N. officials have said the violence committed against the minority sect constituted genocide, and the U.N. Security Council has created a task force to collect evidence of atrocities in Iraq.
Murad became the first U.N. goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking in 2016, and is pressing her concerns about thousands of Yazidi women and girls who may still be captives and survivors she hopes will be moved from camps and resettled.
“The goal of this book is to make sure that everyone knows what happened to the Yazidis and how they suffered,” Murad said, adding:
“There are other survivors who dream that one day they will testify about what [the Islamic State] did to them. Our stories can make a difference.”
When the war began, Murad was a student living a quiet life in the village of Kocho in northern Iraq.
“Everyone was poor,” she said. “We were satisfied with a life that was simple and humble. We were a peaceful, open people.”
The militants arrived in Kocho in August 2014 and ordered everyone to the schoolhouse. The men were then forced to leave, and gunfire soon rang out. Scores of men were killed, including six of Murad’s brothers.
Murad was put on a bus with other young women, relatives and neighbors, and Islamic State fighters began groping the women. One fighter put his hand down her shirt and tried to do “things that happen between lovers when they get married.” Islamic State gunmen took away Murad’s mother to be killed. They set an elderly woman on fire.
Murad and the other young women were taken to the home of a wealthy family in the city of Mosul. They were sold as sex slaves. Murad was 21.
Men raped and beat her. One man extinguished a cigarette on Murad’s stomach. When she was caught trying to escape, Murad was gang-raped as a punishment.
The Islamic State leadership created a self-styled “religious” rationale to justify the sexual abuse of Yazidi women and girls as young as 9.
Some Yazidi women took their own lives. Murad told herself, “We will be able to survive this.”
One day, an Islamic State gunman left her alone in a house, and Murad found an unlocked door. She stepped out into the courtyard, climbed the wall and dropped down into an empty street, terrified.
“It wasn’t about courage,” she said. “You’re scared of being put to death or tortured. All you think about is how to survive.”
Murad walked swiftly through the darkening streets of Mosul, her face covered by a long veil. She banged on the door of a house and begged for help.
The family inside let her in and eventually smuggled her out of Islamic State territory, passing her off as the wife of one of the men. As they went through the last checkpoint, she spotted her photo on a flier showing wanted escapees.
Murad made her way to a refugee camp in Germany, and she now lives with her sister in an apartment in Stuttgart. She is still haunted by the failure of people in Mosul to help more Yazidi women. Since women had to wear veils in Mosul, it would have been easy for families to smuggle them out, Murad said.
Many of those who did help smuggle Yazidis demanded thousands of dollars. Her sister-in-law’s family paid $20,000 to get her to safety, Murad said.
Last summer, Murad returned to her home town for a hero’s welcome, and tears streamed down her face as she entered her family’s destroyed home.
“We hoped that our fate would be like the men and we would be killed, but instead Europeans, Saudis, Tunisians and other fighters came and raped us and sold us,” she said in an improvised speech that was videotaped by news reporters.
Murad hopes that someday she will “look the men who raped me in the eye and see them brought to justice,” and the Yazidi people will be safe.
Then, she won’t have to tell her story anymore. She wants to become a makeup artist or hairdresser or open her own salon.