‘Looked like monsters’: Iraqi boys who fled ISIS captivity tell their terrifying stories
Boys aged from seven to 17, who escaped the blood-chilling captivity, are now living in camps with other displaced Iraqi residents, and are trying to get over the horrors they’ve been through.
“Even here I’m still very afraid. I can’t sleep properly because I see them in my dreams,” 17-year-old Ahmed Ameen Koro told AP.
Three years ago, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) entered the area near the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, killing tens of thousands of Yazidis and kidnapping thousands of women and girls.
“They chose and took the girls they liked. I remember the girls were crying, as well as the mothers. They were dragging these girls from the arms of their mothers,” Ahmed recalled.
Kurdish fighters advanced, freeing Sinjar, back in November 2015, and some 3,500 Yazidis were still held by IS at that time, according to figures given by Human Rights Watch. The Yazidis are viewed as heretics, so-called ‘infidels’, by IS. The minority's beliefs are a combination of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
Ahmed’s family tried to flee, but had to split as their car couldn’t hold everyone: Ahmed, his 13-year-old brother Amin and four cousins went on foot, while his father drove everyone else to a nearby village.
“I was very scared. I’ve never seen such a thing. They were all very big bearded men, they looked like monsters. My parents weren’t with me and I was thinking about them, wondering what happened to them,” Ahmed told AP.
Another boy, now-10-year-old Akram showed AP two large scars on his stomach, sharing the story of his capture.
“They started to shoot at us. My mother fell and I was hit. These are the bullet marks. They separated me from my mother, my sister, my brother and my father.”
The boys never saw their loved ones again and were seized by IS soon afterwards.
Most of them were held in the Badoush Prison near Mosul for about a fortnight, being taught to pray as Muslims, then among those sent to an IS training camp in Tal Afar.
Their days were filled with early morning prayer and military training exercises, as well as Koran studies. They had to slide on their bellies through rows of burning tires, Akram said, and sometimes jumped off roofs. They also learnt to shoot Kalashnikovs and pistols, and watched guidelines on how to use a suicide belt or to behead a person.
“They were telling us if we were in a fight against the infidels ... we had to blow ourselves up and kill them all. They were telling us ‘You are not Yazidis anymore. You are one of us,’” Ahmed said.
“They were saying they are our friends, but the kids were scared to death,” Akram added.
Akram had been held for over two years before being reunited with what remains of his family: an uncle and two siblings, while Ahmed spent nine months in captivity.
His escape was narrow, though.
“We were following the movement of the sun and continued walking at night. We were very thirsty because we ran out of water and we could not find the safe road. We ran out of everything. We were almost dying,” he told AP. After nine days of walking, they were rescued by Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Both boys have mental health issues following their blood-chilling captivity: from nightmares, anxiety and bedwetting to extreme violence.
“They are not like other normal children. Their mental health is very bad,” Akram’s uncle said.
To battle the trauma, Ahmed is seeing a counsellor.
“He tries to restore my mind, to bring me back to how it was before Daesh [Arabic pejorative term for IS]. He tries to get the fear out of me.”
Both boys, however, are certain about what they would like to do in life: “Fight Daesh.”