Fleeing ISIS militants on August 3, 2014, Shireen Jirdo Ibrahim and her family were desperately trying to make their way to the mountains near Sinjar, where they might be able to hide from the brutal extremists. Instead, Ibrahim and her family members — 47 of them in all — were captured by the militants and taken back to Rambusy, Sinjar, their hometown, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they were taken prisoner. Ibrahim spent the next eight months in captivity, before finally being freed. She will travel to New York City this week and appear at the 8th Annual Women in the World Summit where she will tell her harrowing story and discuss the psychological fallout she’s endured as a result of the experience.
ISIS militants separated the women from the men in the immediate aftermath of the failed escape. Despite Ibrahim, 28 at the time, begging her captors not to harm her 14-year-old sister, they took her sibling away and Ibrahim never saw her again while she was in ISIS captivity. Ibrahim was then moved with a group of other captives to a prison, where she spent the next seven days and witnessed unspeakable horrors — ISIS militants executing Yazidi men before the women’s eyes — and was deprived of food and water.
Ibrahim said she spent the next 20 days in captivity at a prison in Tal Afar, about 40 miles west of Mosul. She broke down crying amid the emotional tumult of the ordeal, and was subsequently beaten mercilessly by an ISIS fighter. Left with a broken bone in her hand and unable to walk, she was forced to convert to Islam. In what seemed like a glimmer of hope, ISIS brought a group of male prisoners to the facility, among them her brother and cousin. Ibrahim and her cousin pretended to be married for the next two months, in the hope that doing so would spare them the wrath of the militants. The ruse was up, though, when ISIS began registering prisoners names and the militants discovered that the two were not married. Ibrahim said militants then killed a Yazidi man right in front of her and a group of others, and threatened the same fate for anyone else who lied about their marital status. She was swiftly separated from her family members again, and moved to the village of Kasir Almihrab not far from Tel Afar. She’s never heard from her cousin again.
Ibrahim was eventually moved along with other unmarried women to yet another prison. Day by day, she would watch as ISIS militants would take a few women from the prison. The women who were taken away wouldn’t return. Amid squalid conditions and a lack of proper food and water, Ibrahim fell ill. Her captors drove her to a hospital, but mocked and harassed her during the trip there. She said doctors at the hospital diagnosed her with having suffered a heart attack, but the ISIS militants disputed the diagnosis and took her back to prison.
Finally, Ibrahim was taken from the prison by a 30-year-old ISIS militant whom she identified as Abu Anas. Anas brought her with him to Syria, where he planned to marry her. By then, Ibrahim’s health was in a precarious place and the doctors in Syria who treated her told Anas that, because of her failing health, she was not a good candidate for marriage. Anas returned her to Mosul and Ibrahim’s eight-month nightmare ended three days later. She was among a group of sick and elderly prisoners that ISIS released on April 8, 2015.
Since her initial capture, 20 of Ibrahim’s family members have escaped ISIS, including her. Nearly two dozen relatives are still missing to this day. On Friday, she will appear at the Women in the World New York Summit in a panel discussion titled “Rising From the Ashes: How Yazidi Women are Fighting Back.” The panel will be moderated by Women in the World editor-at-large Zainab Salbi and will also feature award-winning journalist Janine di Giovanni and filmmaker Maria Bello.