Escaping ISIS

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Edward Watts

Evan Williams


Edward Watts

DRIVER: [subtitles] These are all the clothes of people fleeing into the mountains.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] They killed a lot of people here. ISIS came to our village at 2:00 PM on August 3rd last year. They destroyed a lot of houses in the village. The streets are empty. There’s no life. This used to be the main market. I can’t even bear to look at it.

NARRATOR: Khalil al Dakhi is returning to his village in northern Iraq eight months after ISIS overran the area. He is a Yazidi, a religious minority targeted by ISIS. In August 2014, ISIS massacred hundreds of Yazidi men, and as they stormed the region, they took an estimated 3,000 women and children captive. Thousands of other Yazidis who survived the ISIS rampage fled to the nearby Sinjar Mountain, where they remained stranded for weeks.

Khalil’s whole village vanished.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] All the women from that house have been taken. All the women from here are in the hands of ISIS. This house, that house, they took everyone from these houses. They only left one person behind, an old man who’d had a stroke. ISIS left him for dead.

[subtitles] Look what they did to our shop.

NARRATOR: Khalil, his wife and daughter had moved out before ISIS overran the town.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] This was a photography studio. The people in these photos didn’t pick them up. They might be held by ISIS. These are wedding photos. They never collected them because ISIS took over.

NARRATOR: ISIS believes Yazidi women can be enslaved, under their interpretation of Islam.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] This video was shot by an ISIS fighter. They’re in their compound buying and selling girls. It’s devastating.

ISIS FIGHTERS: [subtitles]

Where is my Yazidi girl?

A Yazidi girl?

Will he take two?

Today is the slave market day.

I will buy from whoever wants to sell his slave.

NARRATOR: In the video, the men refer to Yazidi women as “sabya.”

ISIS FIGHTER:* [subtitles] Do you want a slave? Can you handle her?

NARRATOR: It means slaves captured in war.

FIGHTERS: [subtitles]

Abu Khalid, do you want to buy a slave?

I want to sell!

The price depends. If she has blue eyes, it’ll be different.

I’ll trade her for a Glock. I’ll pay $500.

What if she has no teeth?

Get her some dentures.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] One of our Yazidi girls fled from being held by this guy. This is him. She’s back home now, but she was held by him, this bastard.

NARRATOR: Before ISIS attacked his village, Khalil was a lawyer. But now he runs a secret network of contacts inside ISIS territory that helps captive women escape through an underground railroad.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] It can take a whole month to rescue one family. It’s very difficult. They’re being raped and mistreated on a daily basis. They’re calling, crying. They’re asking us to rescue them, telling us they can’t cope any longer. It’s very painful. There’s no one else they can ask for help because their family is either taken or killed.

NARRATOR: Khalil and his team of Yazidi men work from his new home in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, away from the front line with ISIS. His phone number is spreading throughout ISIS territory, and enslaved women call him on cellphones they’ve managed to hide from their captors.

MEDINA: [on the phone] Please, please get us out of this Syrian house. It’s better to die than go through this.

NARRATOR: He says they get dozens of calls a week from women asking for help.

MEDINA: [subtitles] We almost died on the way to Tabqa. You have to find a solution by tomorrow or tell us it’s hopeless. Every day, they are threatening to sell us to someone else.

NARRATOR: Medina and her two children have been held for seven months and moved from town to town. Even ISIS fighters now know about Khalil’s network. He receives a message from one of them, a Tunisian fighter looking to sell Medina back to her family.

TUNISIAN FIGHTER: [on the phone, subtitles] Chief, we have to receive the money tomorrow. We can’t waste any more time. I’ve only got a few days off from fighting.

MURAT: [subtitles] This is him. The Tunisian wants $40,000 to rescue three women and eight children. He says, “If you don’t give your final answer to buy the women, I’ll sell them to someone else from ISIS.”

NARRATOR: Khalil and his team say they don’t pay ransoms to ISIS, but they do give money to their contacts who help the women escape.

MURAT: [subtitles] If we pay the ransom, they could take it and keep the women and use those women for another sale. There are no guarantees here.

NARRATOR: Medina and her daughters have tried to escape before but didn’t make it out. Her family wants Khalil to help them try again.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] When was the first time they contacted you?

BROTHER: [subtitles] 20 or 30 days ago. She said, “Every day, someone is coming to buy us. If you don’t save us quickly, we will be sold to someone else.

MEDINA’S SISTER-IN-LAW: [subtitles] We want to see them again so badly. We are scared what they’ll do to the girls now they’re getting older. They’ll do every nasty, dirty thing they can. We know ISIS are godless people.

NARRATOR: With time running out, Khalil speaks to his contact to see if it’s safe enough to pick up the women from outside their captor’s house.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] I don’t say I rescue the women. Escaping their captors is down to their cleverness. They help us and we help them, through cellphones and middlemen.

NARRATOR: Abu Shuja works with Khalil. He’ll be going to meet Medina’s family if they’re able to make it safely out of captivity.

ABU SHUJA: [through interpreter] I haven’t slept for three days since I lost my friend on a mission. ISIS set up an ambush for us, and we fell into their trap. He got killed, but in a dignified way, fighting back. We know when we do this operation, it’s dangerous, sometimes even deadly.

[phone rings] [subtitles] Sorry, they’re calling from inside.

GUIDE: [on the phone, subtitles] I’ve got four or five men. We’re going to risk it and get them out of there.

NARRATOR: The rescue operation begins. Khalil’s contact tells the family to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and meet him in a car waiting outside. The contact will then guide them out of ISIS territory through a series of safe houses along the border of Turkey and Iraq.

Abu Shuja heads toward the border to meet them, hoping that this time, they make it.

ABU SHUJA: [subtitles] We got here first. We’re waiting for the family. They could arrive any minute, but they’ve been delayed on the other side. Their family has come to meet them. They are the relatives of the captive women and children.

NARRATOR: After two hours, the contact calls Abu Shujaa, saying they’ve arrived.

BROTHER: Are they here?

MAN: I think they’re over there.

BROTHER: Where? Where did they go?

MAN: They’re here.

NARRATOR: The women and children snuck out while their captor was asleep.

RELATIVE: Welcome back. God bless you. [escapee weeps] You’re OK. You’re OK.

MEDINA: We’re grateful to you. We will never forget what you’ve done for us!

NARRATOR: Medina’s two daughters are 9 and 10, the age when ISIS says girls can be forced into marriage. The girls haven’t seen their family in seven months.

The fighting in Syria and Iraq has helped create the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, and the Yazidis have been particularly affected, with nearly 200,000 forced from their homes. They now live in vast camps in northern Iraq, but many of the women and children are still held by ISIS.

For centuries, Yazidis have been persecuted by Sunni Muslims because of their religious beliefs. ISIS sees them as devil-worshipping pagans who must be cleansed to turn Iraq into a pure Islamic state.

Khalil spends much of his time visiting the camps, spreading the word about his network.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: Can you take my telephone number? Stay in touch and pass on any information you get. Do you have anyone in captivity?

1st WOMAN: Two of my daughters are held and five of my grandchildren.

2nd WOMAN: Fourteen have been taken from my family. Ten of them are children, and we don’t know their fate.

3rd WOMAN: Eight from our family. We suffer day and night. We just want them back, nothing else.

4th WOMAN: If you’d save all these girls, you would give us the whole world.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] Until now, no one has seriously said that we’re going to rescue these people, not even the government. Imagine if one of your journalists were captured by them. You would do anything to help them.

NARRATOR: Aeida was among the earliest Yazidi women to escape from ISIS. She is 21 and was abducted with her two children near Sinjar Mountain last summer.

AEIDA: [subtitles] When the children argue, my daughter says she’s going to behead them.

[to child] What was ISIS doing? Show me. [child draws hand across her throat]

That means they saw with their own eyes how they killed people. They were beheading them.

[through interpreter] I dream of ISIS attacking us and I run away. Sometimes I see them arresting me. Some nights, I can’t sleep until the early morning hours because of the nightmares.

NARRATOR: After they overran the Yazidi towns and villages in northern Iraq, ISIS turned homes into prisons for captured women.

AEIDA: [through interpreter] I wish I could forget that building. We were around 35 girls and 3 women. I was only 21, but I was the oldest.

They were coming and taking girls from this building. We had one guard who was forcing a 9-year-old girl. He was forcing her to go with him into the bathroom. I couldn’t take it, and I had a fight with the guard. The guard said, “I’ll kill you,” and I said, “I don’t mind dying for her. Don’t take the girl.”

INTERVIEWER: Were they also raping the 9-year-old?

AEIDA: [subtitles] Of course. He told me, “It’s OK in our religion to take a 9-year-old girl.” I said. “Don’t tell me this.” I said, “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want your religion.”

NARRATOR: The ISIS fighter told Aeida it was legitimate to marry girls as young as 9.

AEIDA: [through interpreter] I tried my best, but they just took her. And it was really sad. They drugged her.

WOMAN: [Aeida starts to choke, moan] You’re OK now, relax. Lie down slowly, slowly.

NUN: Keep the kids back.

WOMAN: How many times a day does she get like this?

AEIDA’S MOTHER: Today, she’s had five of these attacks. [to child] Mommy’s hand hurts. Rub Mommy’s hand.

NUN: Look what a good girl you are.

NARRATOR: Khalil is building a database of all the Yazidi women who’ve escaped ISIS and all the women who are still held, along with their locations.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] I have to find out where they’re holding the Yazidi girls. We know where most of them are being held. We’re even in contact with some of them. When they tell me their stories, I find it hard to believe. Sometimes I cry as they tell me their stories. From what I’ve been told, four out of five of them have been raped.

NARRATOR: Despite what women are going through, Khalil must wait for his contacts inside to tell him when it’s safe to attempt a rescue.

Across the border in Turkey, there’s another cell working against ISIS. It’s led by Abu Mohammed, a 26-year-old Syrian. Rather than smuggling out women, he smuggles out footage shot by him and his network of activists who are trying to document life in ISIS-held areas in Syria.

Abu Mohammed still travels back across the border to secretly film ISIS, so we are protecting his identity. Here his team covertly film themselves trying to enter ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa.

ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] We always face problems. Most of the time, we travel with fake IDs and use different names. We always try to disguise ourselves. I’ll shave my beard and grow my hair. I’ll wear clothes like theirs so they won’t suspect me.

NARRATOR: Abu Mohammed has been told ISIS is actively searching for his team.

[ISIS checkpoint, Raqqa city limits] [subtitles]

This is a very old ID.

This is fake.

No, Sheikh, I swear to God.

I know, I see thousands of IDs every day.

ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] Of course it’s frightening. You could be killed at any moment.


This is a fake ID.

No, no. It’s just old. Look at the issue date.

Maybe it’s not fake, but it’s torn here.

Yes, I know. It faded in the laundry.

You should laminate it.

Thank you, Sheikh. God bless you.

NARRATOR: One of the group’s founders, Abu Mohammed’s friend, Moataz, was captured by ISIS. They discovered videos on his phone, which gave away his link to the activists.

ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] Last March, my friend tried to leave Raqqa. He was caught at the checkpoint. After interrogation and torture, they discovered he was working with us. He was a university student, 22 years old.

NARRATOR: Moataz was tried and found guilty of betraying Islam.

ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] The danger is always there. When we decided to do this work, of course we knew the consequences. At the end of the day, it’s our duty to get the real picture of life in Raqqa out to the world.

I filmed this.

NARRATOR: ISIS claims they’re returning to a pure version of Islam. Armed ISIS fighters patrol the streets. Trucks announce their edicts.

ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] This is their list of things that offend Islam.

NARRATOR: ISIS draws its punishments from medieval Islam. The hands of accused thieves are chopped off. And men suspected of being gay have been thrown from the top of buildings. ISIS uses violence to instill fear among local residents to ensure they obey its rules.

Women are expected to wear two black gowns to hide their body shape, black gloves and three veils so that their eyes can’t be seen in direct sunlight. It’s among the strictest dress codes for women in the Muslim world.

ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] I started feeling that there wasn’t any color in the city, only black and darkness.

NARRATOR: Last year, an undercover journalist secretly filmed herself being approached by ISIS fighters.

JOURNALIST: Pardon, say that again?

ISIS MAN: Do you consider yourself well raised?


ISIS MAN: Your face is visible.

JOURNALIST: I’m sorry. Maybe it’s a bit visible. Please forgive me.

ISIS MAN: My good lady, take care of covering yourself. Allah told us to be well-covered.

JOURNALIST: OK, as you order. Forgive me. I’m so sorry.

NARRATOR: Despite imposing such restrictions on women, increasingly in Syria, radical jihadist groups are recruiting women to fight and fulfill their vision of an Islamic state.

MARCHING WOMEN: [subtitles] God is great!

NARRATOR: To enforce their rules in Raqqa, ISIS created a special all-female police force, called the Al Khansaa Brigade. We met one woman who said she’d been a member. She goes by the name of Umm Abaid.

UMM ABAID: [through interpreter] We were responsible for enforcing women’s clothing rules. I remember one woman walking with her husband, wearing a gown with images on it. The first thing we did was take her and whip her. Then we took her clothes and replaced them with clothes required by Sharia law.

Then we took the husband’s money to pay for the clothes. Then we whipped him, too. I felt women were doing the wrong thing so we had to enforce the law, and I believed in what I was doing.

INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] Do you still believe that?

UMM ABAID: [through interpreter] Yes, I do.

NARRATOR: Since ISIS captured Raqqa in 2013, thousands of Muslim women have fled across the border to Turkey.

MOONA: [through interpreter] Raqqa used to be a peace-loving and beautiful city, full of good people. We had mixed schools and universities. There was no problem with normal relations between boys and girls. It’s now the capital of terror in the world.

NARRATOR: Raqqa was home to many educated women like Moona. She tried to resist the oppression and bring ISIS’s abuses to the world’s attention.

In this ISIS video, a young woman in Syria stands accused of adultery.


ISIS MAN: Sister, sister— sister, what would you like to say before we implement the law of God? What would you advise people? Say your last words before you leave this life. Speak up.

WOMAN: I advise every decent woman to guard her honor more than her life.


NARRATOR: Her father has been brought to witness her sentence.

WOMAN: Please forgive me.


ISIS MAN: Forgive her?

WOMAN: Please forgive me.

FATHER: Sorry, my heart does not let me do it.

WOMAN: Please Father, forgive me.

FATHER: Hopefully, God will forgive you.

WOMAN: Forgive me.

ISIS MAN: Let’s start God’s punishment in the eastern part of the Hama countryside, death by stoning. Let’s go.

NARRATOR: The woman’s father joins in.

MOONA: [through interpreter] They stoned the woman but not the man who committed adultery. So I started posting on Facebook about the way they treated people. I focused on human rights issues, particularly with women. I was working against them.

NARRATOR: Moona’s criticisms brought her to the attention of ISIS.

MOONA: [through interpreter] One night at home around 8:00 o’clock, there was a knock on the door. All of a sudden, a female wearing black appeared. She was with ISIS, the Al Khansaa Brigade. She came in with three men, also in black. They fired a warning shot in the room and said they’d cut my throat if I didn’t hand over the laptop.

NARRATOR: In the end, the ISIS fighters took the laptop, but left Moona unharmed, and she escaped to Turkey that night.

MOONA: [through interpreter] I hate them. I hate them very much. I really hate them.

NARRATOR: While locals like Moona were driven from their home, thousands of foreign fighters have flooded into Syria, attracted by a life of Islamic purity, and also war and adventure.

ISIS FIGHTER: My Lord, I seek refugee in you from sin and boredom.

NARRATOR: Abu Mohammed’s undercover cameras capture a conversation in an Internet cafe with a fighter who’d come to Raqqa from Europe.

EUROPEAN FIGHTER: [subtitles] France used to be nice, but not anymore. Now it’s very dirty. Many people are homeless. People are poor and a lot are drunk.

NARRATOR: Many of the fighters are still in their teens and early twenties.

I got a text from my mom— “My son you, left without telling me.”


My God, what could I tell her?

Tell her we’re waiting for her. If we die, she can meet us in heaven.


NARRATOR: Even the foreign fighters adopt ISIS’s attitude toward Yazidis.

FIGHTER: We have their children and women. The only way to deal with Yazidi men is with guns. That’s how our guys went and settled the battle. [laughter]

NARRATOR: Many of the Yazidis forced out of their homes by ISIS have fled to the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk. Khalil now lives here with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] I can’t imagine not seeing my daughter two or three times a day, talk to her, hug her. Now there are hundreds of children like mine who’ve been taken.

NARRATOR: Since they began last September, Khalil’s team has helped rescue more than a hundred women and children. But it’s not without its costs. Three of his men have been killed during attempted rescues.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] We have two or three operations planned right now. We’re a do-it-yourself operation, and we have to keep going.

NARRATOR: Unknown to the outside world, the reputation of Khalil’s network is growing among the Yazidi refugees. More and more with missing relatives are coming to him for help.

FAISAL: [subtitles] For a long time, I’ve been hearing that you might have found a way to get them out. That’s why I called. Do you know someone who could smuggle them out? They think they’ll never be freed.

NARRATOR: Khalil has come to see Faisal. He says all his female relatives are held by ISIS, 26, including his mother, Masri. She called him from a cellphone she had hidden in a baby’s diaper.

FAISAL: [subtitles] My 5-year-old niece called and said, “Uncle, please save us from ISIS.” My mother is 60 and calls again asking to be saved from their hands.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] I can tell you’re really worried about them, about how they’ll make it.

FAISAL: [subtitles] Yes, I’m so worried.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] For this kind of work, we’re more worried than you. I have to be certain we can pull it off to have a clear conscience. The rest is in God’s hands.

NARRATOR: Faisal must now wait to see if Khalil can find someone to help so many people escape all at once. Khalil first gathers information from another girl who escaped.


MAHA: I was very frightened. I heard that they’re killing and beheading people. They had long hair, long beards. They were dressed like Afghans, wearing pants and long shirts. They told us, “We’re going to marry all of you and you’ll become one of us.” I said, “If I don’t escape, let them kill me. It’s better to die than stay here.”

I squeezed out through the window. I hurt myself badly because I went out the wrong way. Then we put on the burqas, jumped over the wall and ran.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: What landmarks were near you? Anything distinctive?

MAHA: We were in a house and there was a school beside us.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: Was it large?

MAHA: Yes. It was on the edge of town.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: Look, this is the school?

MAHA: No, the school was on the other side.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: This is good. I know where they are. I can see it on the map on my phone. I’ll send someone brave to check it out and see if they can get them out.

NARRATOR: Khalil then calls Faisal to find out if the family is ready to go.


KHALIL AL DAKHI: Faisal, how are you? Anything new from them?

FAISAL: I called them. They said it’s too wet and muddy and they couldn’t make it out. I’ll call them now. If I don’t get through, I’ll keep trying until this afternoon and let you know.


FAISAL: I’ll tell you as soon as I get through to them and hear something new.


NARRATOR: Faisal’s family is being held 70 miles away in the ISIS stronghold of Tal Afar, in northern Iraq.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] They brought diggers and started digging around the town to strengthen the defense lines and stop people escaping. We’re very worried because we don’t know when they’ll finish the barrier and turn the whole town into a huge jail.

INTERVIEWER: How long have you got to try and rescue these girls?

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] Only three days.

[through interpreter] We’re trying our best because poor Faisal is all alone. He has no one left. All of his relatives are in captivity.

[phone rings] [subtitles] Stop here

NARRATOR: It’s one of Faisal’s family. They’ve made it out of the ISIS house, but there are even more people than Khalil expected.

[on the phone] [subtitles]

ESCAPEE: My brother-in-law’s family is also here. There are six of them. Can you help them too?

KHALIL AL DAKHI: I’ll try to get them out with you. If it’s possible, we will take them out. If not, then no.

Make sure the kids don’t cry. We failed once because the kids started crying. Seriously, I’m warning you, the kids must not cry.

Hello? The signal cut off.

[through interpreter] His family are in a very dangerous situation. They can’t go back to the city. If they escape, it will be wonderful. But for now, they’re still in ISIS territory.

NARRATOR: Guided by Khalil’s contact, the escapees have to walk across miles of territory patrolled by ISIS fighters.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] This is the front line of the battle with ISIS. We can’t go any further. ISIS is here. ISIS always moves around in this area.

There’s fighting going on over there. It’s a very dangerous road now, but they have no choice. They have to escape ISIS. But we’re worried they might not make it.

NARRATOR: If all goes well, it will take them two days to walk to safety.

[ How the rescue operations work]

Amal is 18 and was held by an ISIS commander named Selman and his six bodyguards.

AMAL: [subtitles] He raped me. He put one of his toes in honey and put it in my mouth. Once, all six guards came into the room. They raped me through the night until the morning. They weren’t gentle. They raped me violently. They didn’t care.

The driver then gave me to a group of 12 men. All 12 of them, they did everything to me. That’s why I’m still in pain.

I can’t sleep. I wake up at 3:00 AM because I remember their smell. Their smell makes me brush my teeth more than 10 times a day. It will stay me with forever.

NADIA: [subtitles] They would come and choose. They’d say, “I want one with light skin or blue eyes or blond hair.” We were coming up with ways to kill ourselves.

NARRATOR: Nadia says she was held by ISIS for 110 days. She was moved from house to house in northern Iraq.

NADIA: [subtitles] Two of my friends electrocuted themselves. One hanged herself with her shawl. One woman slit her wrist. She went to the bathroom, and we saw the blood leaking from under the door. They said they would feed her to the dogs. That’s the fate of anyone who kills themselves.

NARRATOR: It’s been two days since Khalil’s guide picked up Faisal’s relatives in the ISIS-controlled town of Tal Afar. They were expected to cross into safety today. But Khalil hasn’t heard from the group for 12 hours and decides to drive to the front line.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] They left ISIS territory just after midnight. I don’t know much more than that. I don’t know if they’re alive or dead.

NARRATOR: Since the massacre last summer, local Yazidi fighters have patrolled the area on the lookout for ISIS.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] There are sometimes suicide car bombers. Once they came and blew themselves up right over there and killed 10-15 people.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] They receive information about the operation, so when our men go to meet the family, they ambush us.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] That’s their post.

FIGHTER: [pointing] ISIS, this. And family here.

NARRATOR: Faisal has been on the mountain with the fighters since sunrise waiting for news from his family.

FAISAL: [subtitles] They’re hiding during the day and walking at night. It’s been two nights since they set off. I haven’t slept for two days.

YAZIDI MAN: [subtitles] They’re coming. They’re coming!

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] They’re coming. I can see them. They’re 500 meters away. Let’s go.

NARRATOR: Faisal has been warned by the Yazidi fighters to stay back, but he runs towards the front of the group. Twenty-four of his relatives have made it out and brought 10 more captives with them. They say they had been held for eight months in Tal Afar. Some have walked barefoot for three days.

Faisal’s 60-year-old mother has made it.

MASRI: [subtitles] God bless you all. You saved us. Thank you.

FAISAL: [subtitles] This is my brother. These fighters wouldn’t let me come down without them. They’ve always been here for me, keeping me safe. God bless everyone. Thank you, God. They’ve really helped me.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] Move! Let’s go. We could get bombed!

NARRATOR: While the fighters try to get the family away as quickly as possible, Khalil’s contact turns around and walks back into ISIS territory.

Faisal’s relatives are driven to the nearest Yazidi shrine to give thanks for their deliverance.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] A lot of people came to the temple.

NARRATOR: They say ISIS forced them to convert to Islam, or else be killed. Before they do anything else, they must go through a ceremony to convert them back into the Yazidi faith.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] If you come here, you are forgiven for what happened to you while you were with ISIS. You’re cleansed. This is our tradition.

[to escapees] All the best.

NARRATOR: In April, the Yazidis celebrate their New Year. Thousands gather at their holiest site, the shrine of Lalish. This year, many women are dressed in black, a sign of mourning for relatives lost to ISIS. Khalil runs into a girl he helped rescue just two weeks earlier.


KHALIL AL DAKHI: Are you well?

SALWA: Yes, thank you. It’s good to see you.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: Your father didn’t recognize me!

SALWA: I recognized you straight away.

NARRATOR: Eighteen-year-old Salwa was held for 237 days. He plays her a clip of the moment she was brought to freedom.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [subtitles] Do you remember that?

SALWA: [subtitles] I was scared that so much time would pass and I would be forgotten and never rescued. It was so difficult there.

NARRATOR: Since escaping, Faisal’s family has been staying in a refugee camp in northern Iraq. They can’t go home. ISIS is still in control of their village.

FAISAL: This is my aunt, my mom’s sister, and this is my sister. On the way, she fell and hurt her leg. She can’t walk now. This is my uncle’s wife. She came from there, as well. These are all my relatives.

[to child] Come, come, come here. This is my niece who walked barefoot from Tal Afar. Did you think you’d make it home or they’d catch you again?

CHILD: I thought we would make it.

FAISAL: What was ISIS like?

CHILD: ISIS was all black.

NARRATOR: Just six weeks after Faisal’s family escaped Tal Afar there was another attack on Yazidis in the area. Three hundred were reported killed and hundreds of women were taken deeper into ISIS territory.

FAISAL: Who did you miss?

CHILD: My dad.

FAISAL: Did you miss your uncle?

NARRATOR: Faisal’s relatives were some of the last to escape. One of his sisters and a cousin are still being held, along with an estimated 2,500 other Yazidis.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] We want to give people hope that the ISIS atrocities will come to an end. ISIS can probably see us from here. They’re only four kilometers away. They can see we’re building a new temple, a new foundation. They want to wipe us out. They think there shouldn’t be any Yazidi symbols left. We’ll stay here. They should get the message that we’re staying.

NARRATOR: In late June, two of Khalil’s men were tricked into an ambush by ISIS. He says after they were captured, they were stoned to death.

KHALIL AL DAKHI: [through interpreter] Even though it’s dangerous, we’re going to keep going because if one girl escapes, it’s a blow to them. But for now, I can’t forget there are still so many in captivity.

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