BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria have liberated a Yazidi woman who had been held for a decade by the Islamic State group, where she was raped and forced to marry extremists, the Syrian Democratic Forces said Monday.
The 24-year-old woman along with her son and daughter were rescued during an ongoing security operation by Kurdish fighters in Syria’s northeastern sprawling al-Hol camp that houses tens of thousands of people, mostly wives and children of Islamic State fighters as well as supporters of the militant group, the SDF said.
The SDF launched Operation Humanity and Security 3 at al-Hol on Friday and since then three dozen people have been detained on suspicion of links to the extremist group that once ruled large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The SDF said the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, liberated the Yazidi woman on Sunday saying that she is originally from Hardan village in Iraq’s Yazidi heartland of Sinjar. The statement said the woman was abducted by IS fighters during the 2014 massacres committed by the extremists during which they killed thousands of men and took many women and teenage girls who were held as sex slaves.
The woman said in a video released by the YPJ that she was staying with a family before being taken to the camp and was told not to reveal her identity or say that she is Yazidi. The woman said she used a fake name during her stay at al-Hol until she was liberated.
“They destroyed my life. I was sold and bought like a sheep,” the woman said about the time she spent before being brought to al-Hol in 2019. She added that at one point she was with six other women in the house of an older man called Abu Jaafar who used to beat her up if she rejected him.
“The women who resisted rape used be killed,” she said.
The heavily-guarded al-Hol camp, overseen by Syrian Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States, was once home to 73,000 people, the vast majority of them Syrians and Iraqis. The number of residents dropped over the years as many women and children were repatriated from al-Hol.
Al-Hol houses mostly Iraqis and Syrians, but there are also citizens of about 60 other nationalities. The Iraqis and Syrians are held in one section.
Those of non-Syrian or Iraqi nationalities live in a part of the camp known as the Annex, considered the home of the most die-hard IS supporters. Many of them had traveled thousands of miles to join the extremist group after IS swept across the region in 2014.
IS extremists have sleeper cells in the camp, and over the past years several security operations were carried out during which women captured as slaves were released and extremists detained.
The SDF said that during the first day of the operations alone, 21 IS “operatives were captured and terrorist materials seized.” It added that explosives, booby-traps and tunnels were uncovered.