How ISIS Wages a Brutal and Hideous War on Women
Policy + Politics

How ISIS Wages a Brutal and Hideous War on Women


“Forgive me … forgive me,” said the Syrian woman wearing an Afghan chador dress to her father a few minutes before she was stoned to death by ISIS fighters and her father.

“No. I will never forgive you…. You want me to forgive you for your wrongdoing? I am sorry. My heart will not let me forgive you,” her old tribal father replied.

“Allah the God of all people will forgive me,” she said, appealing to him again.

“Allah the God of all people may forgive you. But I will not forgive you,” he replied. Then, the long black-bearded ISIS stoning squad leader said, “Allah the God of all people is more merciful than us and him [the father] and the whole world.” ISIS militants urged her father to forgive her. But he insisted he would not.

“Father,” she pleaded again with her weak voice.

“Don’t say 'father.' I am not your father.”

Finally, ISIS members pressured him and he unwillingly agreed to forgive her.

“Pray to Allah for me,” she asked him.

“Ha?! Pray to Allah!” He rejected that too.

She was silent. But she took that as a yes.

The ISIS terrorist asked her to say her last words. “I advise every honest woman to protect her honor more than her life,” she said.

The father tied his daughter with a rope and dragged her into a hole prepared for the stoning; then he and the rest of the men executed their justice. The father from a few feet away carried a big, heavy rock and threw it at his daughter’s head. Within minutes, her head was no longer recognizable. To show mercy to the digital audience, the video went out of focus. But there was no mercy for the stoned woman.

This video that was posted a few weeks ago is yet another example of the barbaric cruelty that Iraqi and Syrian women are enduring under the reign of ISIS.

Related: The Merger of ISIS and al-Qaeda Could Cripple the Civilized World

The idea of an independent woman — a woman who can make decisions for herself and her family — is anathema to far-right Islamists. To ISIS, women are a threat if they’re not completely subservient to the men who rule them — the father, the brother, the husband. They have no mobility; they are essentially enslaved. Anyone who defies the orthodoxy of the ruling male dominance is swiftly eliminated. 

Last month in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where 2 million people live, ISIS reportedly executed several notable women, including lawyers, physicians, activists and politicians for various reasons. Among them was a famous lawyer who refused to charge the families of the Iraqi detainees in the U.S. military detention facilities between 2003 and 2011.

The Iraqi writer Mushriq Abbas says Samira Salih al-Nuaimi was born in 1963. She was illiterate until the age of 18, when she enrolled in a class and learned how to read and write, after which she earned two bachelor’s degrees, in literature and law. Because of her continued criticism of ISIS on social media and in person, she was arrested and tortured for five days and then killed in public in Mosul.

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The killing of al-Nuaimi sparked angry reactions around the world. The United Nations and the U.S. State Department, among others, condemned the killing.

While we were able to verify independently the killing of Samira al-Nuaimi, the extremely dangerous circmstances in Mosul made it difficult to verify other murders of notable women.  

Lawyer Najlaa al-Omary was arrested as well and died in prison weeks earlier for the same accusation, of resisting the Caliph’s reign. Other female lawyers are reportedly in ISIS prisons in Mosul now for not representing ISIS members in Iraqi courts before the fall of Mosul last June.

In August, one of Mosul’s most famous physicians, Dr. Ghada Shafiq, was murdered in her house by ISIS members after refusing arrest by them. A strike by Mosul’s physicians was organized to protest her killing.

In early September, three other female physicians in Mosul were killed by ISIS members because they refused to treat ISIS wounded fighters. And this month, a female surgeon was murdered for the same reason. The former member of parliament Iman Mohammed, the former parliamentary candidate Zina Nuri al-Anizi, and five other housewives were also killed by ISIS members. Another physician was killed two weeks earlier for refusing to wear ISIS’s version of the Islamic dress for women. All the victims were killed in Mosul.

Iraq’s Joan of Arc
None of the Iraqi women were killed without a fight. In the early weeks of ISIS resurgence in June, one of them became an Iraqi Joan of Arc. On the morning of June 22, 2014, just two-and-a-half hours before her death by an ISIS sniper bullet in battle, Omaya al-Jbara, a 40-year-old mother of four and a women’s rights activist, woke up with extraordinary feelings of happiness.

Related: If ISIS Captures Baghdad, Terror Takes a Giant Step Forward

Until 2 a.m. the night before, she had helped hundreds of men — including her brothers and cousins — repel an attack by ISIS on her hometown, al-Alam, a small agricultural town about 90 miles north of Baghdad, near Tikrit, that was captured 11 days earlier. The towns surrounding al-Alam have all fallen to ISIS.

For 12 days, ISIS mortars, RPGs and rockets rained down on houses and streets. Groups of men, armed with heavy machine guns, tried to break into the town with their fast cars and trucks. That night, the Iraqi army helicopters helped the defenders and managed to burn five ISIS vehicles.

Al-Alam is a town inhabited by al-Jubour tribe, one of the largest tribes in Iraq. The sheikh (tribal head) of al-Jubour in al-Alam is Omaya al-Jbara’s older brother. Because Omaya’s father had refused to cooperate with al-Qaeda, he was kidnapped by the ISIS predecessor organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, at a fake checkpoint in 2007. His body was never found. Omaya’s younger brother, 19-year-old law student Nazal al-Jbara, recalled that Omaya “wept secretly in private for months after his kidnapping. But in public, she encouraged everybody to keep fighting al-Qaeda.”

A few months later, Omaya’s older brother was also killed when his car exploded from a road bomb. “We heard in the beginning that he was still alive, so Omaya went to the roof of our house and fired an AK-47 in the air to celebrate. Then we knew that he didn’t survive and she mourned again,” Nazal said. 

When ISIS expanded last June, Omaya sent her sick husband and her four children — two boys, 12 and 8 years old, and two girls, 10 and 2 years old — to the safety of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in the north. Omaya stayed behind to fight. “We urged her not to take part in the fight. But she insisted,” said her other brother Marwan al-Jbara, a 39-year-old who runs a TV channel.

Related: ISIS Delivers ‘Shock and Awe’ with Arms from U.S., China and Russia

Omaya was not known as a fighter. Despite the tragedies of losing her father and her brother, she was a happy and loving wife, mother and sister. In al-Alam, she worked as a history teacher. She also studied law and founded a women’s rights organization to promote the status of women in her community. “She was full of joy and very kind,” said Nagham Toshee, a friend of Omaya who worked as a member of the Nineveh Province Council. “She was very generous. She liked music and poetry. She also loved to travel.”

                Omaya al-Jbara

For 13 days, Omaya fought with her brothers and cousins to defend her town from the ISIS invasion. They built barriers of sandbags at the southern entrance of the town and fought behind them for protection. In those two weeks, Omaya saw her share of violence. 

On the morning of June 22, she was at her older brother’s house. I visited that house as a reporter while covering the Iraqi provincial election in 2009. I met her older brother, Sheikh Khamis, who told me the tragic story of his father's and brother’s deaths in 2007.

When she woke up that morning, Omaya heard of another attack by ISIS fighters that started at 6 am. This time they were attacking from nearby farms. She rushed to the scene. “She knew that our fighters lacked ammunitions, so she took her AK 47 and another heavy machine-gun with ammunition and brought them to the fighters,” Nazal, the law student, said.

“She told us, ‘We will not let them in.’”

Related: How Yemen Is Making ISIS and al-Qaeda Even More Dangerous

Seven ISIS fighters were killed that morning. “She killed three of them personally,” Nazal confirmed. “After turning her back to the ISIS fighters for a second while trying to hand one of our fighters some ammunition, a sniper shot hit her in the heart. She was silent. She died immediately.” 

After her death, the battle raged for another hour-and-a-half. Then ISIS kidnapped dozens of men, women and children from al-Alam while they were trying to flee. The leaders of the town negotiated with ISIS for their release. ISIS insisted on the surrender of the town as a condition, and he next day, al-Alam surrendered to ISIS. Omaya’s brothers fled.

Omaya’s courage inspired many people in Iraq. Her burial turned into a public demonstration against ISIS. Photos and videos went viral on social media sites in Iraq. The Iraqi former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement that Omaya was one of “the women that made the terrorists astonished … with their rare bravery.”

Omaya’s actions came while full divisions of the Iraqi army fled the battlefield with almost no fight. “She was a true hero - way more brave than those filthy army generals who sold Iraq and fled the battle,” said Salama al-Sagban, who runs a women’s right organization in southern Iraq.

Her killing also took place when many people think there is no way back for Iraq anymore. “Unfortunately, the people are divided socially and ideologically. There is no way to restore the unity of the people. I think Iraq as a state has totally collapsed. It is divided in land, people and in the political system. These are the elements of the state,” said Shatha Al Musawi, a former member of parliament.

But Omaya’s brother Nazal thinks otherwise. He honors his sister’s conviction. “They (the al-Jubour tribe) have revolted in several places…. We will spare nothing in the fight against ISIS.”

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