By Benedetta Argentieri
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Adeba Shaker arrived at a house in Raabia, Iraq, after being kidnapped by Islamic State militants last month, one of her captors received a phone call.
A few moments later all five men in the apartment picked up their guns and stormed out.
the property and then silence. For the first time in 20 days she and another girl being held with her were alone with no guards, and the door was unlocked.
Islamic State militants had trafficked Shaker from her village in the northeast Iraq region of Sinjar to the Syrian border and presented her as a “gift” to fighters on the front line. She was to be converted to Islam and forcibly married to one of them.
“When [the militants] left us I panicked, I didn’t know what to do. I saw a bag full of cell phones and I called my brother,” Shaker told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from a camp for internally displaced people in Iraq.
On the phone, her brother Samir told her to go to a nearby house and ask for help and directions to reach the border where fighters from the Kurdistan State Workers Party (PKK) were battling Islamic State militants.
He said the PKK would help her reach safety.
“This was a gamble as I didn’t know who was a friend and who was an enemy,” she said.
Shaker and her companion decided to try their luck. They snuck out of the house and knocked on a neighbor’s door.
“We explained the situation to them and they showed us the way to the border.”
“WE NEVER LOOKED BACK”
The two girls set off toward the front lines.
“I couldn’t walk straight, my legs were shaking and my heart was beating so fast. We ran and walked and we never looked back,” Shaker said.
After two hours on the road they heard gunfire. As they got closer, they saw a group of PKK fighters and started running towards them.
“I was crying and laughing at the same time,” she said. “We were free.”
Adeba Shaker is one of the few Yazidis to have escaped the Islamic State militants who have taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months.
Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled their ancient homeland of Sinjar and other villages to escape a dramatic push by the Sunni militants, who regard them as devil worshippers who must embrace the Islamic State’s radical version of Islam or die.
In addition to Shaker, militants abducted at least 73 women and children from her village and trafficked them across northern Iraq.
Shaker recalled how the militants separated old women from the rest of the group. Then they took the children.
Young women and girls faced terrifying fates. Some girls were raped by the commander, who had the privilege of taking their virginity, before being passed round among the fighters.
After they had been gang-raped, they were likely to be sold off to the highest bidder.
Women and girls are auctioned for as little as $10, according to numerous reports. Others, like Shaker, were to be married off to militants.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOW
“The most terrifying moment was the first night after they captured us,” she recalled. “We arrived at a police station in another town and everybody was crying and screaming. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us.”
Shaker had been living in a small village with 25 family members. She loved school and wanted to become a teacher. When the family heard that Islamic State fighters were approaching, they fled to a nearby village.
But the fighters reached them shortly afterwards.
“They promised they were not going to hurt us if we surrendered,” Shaker said. “They separated women and kids from men … Then they took all our jewels, money, phones and vehicles.”
Two hours later all the prisoners were loaded onto trucks and moved to an unknown destination.
“At the beginning (they) were trying to be nice to us … They were trying to calm us down.” Shortly afterwards, their attitude changed and they became “abusive and aggressive,” she said.
Eventually, Shaker and her family arrived at the town of Badoosh, near Mosul, where they joined around 1,000 other Yazidi women and children.
She was separated from her mother and the rest of her family and was later sent to the house in Raabia from which she escaped.
Shaker is now safe in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq, where she was reunited with two of her brothers. She doesn’t yet know the fate of 22 other relatives who are still in the hands of Islamic State.
“Sometimes I can’t sleep at night … I worry so much about them,” she said. “Those hours are the worst … Everyone is asleep and I still think about my escape.”
“I know I was lucky, God saved me.”
(Editing by Maria Caspani)