Turkish ISIS Women on hunger strike in the Iraqi Prison

It was another ordinary day, I got used to facing off interesting a lot of subjects while researching Salafists, especially about Turkey-origin ISIS circles, while re-reading resultless discussions of them on a dull morning, I came across a burst development, which even wasn’t known by many sympathizers, suddenly it caused open a different window for my inquiries. ISIS-convicted Turkish-origin women’s hunger strike had begun in Iraq.

 

ISIS fighters and their wives are known by anyone who bears on the Middle East in al Hol and Roj camps in Syria due to these camps often occupying headlines of popular research, while many people were in the dark about the foreign ISIS prisoners in Rusafa, in Baghdad. When Salafi accounts with few followers were talking about it, then I started to look at profiles about ISIS-convicted prisoner women in the capital of Iraq. I reached out to related many people including ISIS prisoners in Rusafa and the pieces of information, which I got, provided me with the understanding that the scenery wasn’t a simple hunger strike.

 

While has been continuing liberal discussion regarding whether imprisonment is a type of amelioration, various ISIS women from different nationalities, especially from Turkey, told me about judgement in Iraq was unfair thereby they started to campaign on social media platforms for back to Turkey and wanted to new trial. According to what women said, everyone in jail is “a prisoner of fate”, but it’s uncertain who is Jean Valjean.

 

Three years had passed since when Iraq’s Minister of Justice Haidar al-Zamily said to women “You might return to your country three months later,” when his visit to Rusafa Prison. Although there were a few repatriations, back to their countries had turned into a hopeless case for ISIS-convicted women in Rusafa. There isn’t any certain idea why Russian ISIS prisoners started a hunger strike in this period, even for people in Rusafa, but Russian origins were the engine for other prisoners.

 

The number of 274 Turkish ISIS prisoners are occupying Rusafa Prison. Some of them were highly active on social media and it wasn’t surprising for me. However, internet user women have avoided sharing any posts, which could be made coherence with ISIS. Quiet and careful, but with an Islamic façade, the women prisoners of ISIS, who seem to have managed to gather followers for a long time in a way that attracts the attention of their peers, have also managed to mobilize their followers to publicize the campaign with the hunger strike.

 

The developments about hunger strikes were spread by Salafist accounts, some Iraqi-based news platforms, and extremism researchers with vague interest. The hunger strike was announced with images and videos that induced mobilization in social media among the pro-ISIS people and some irrelevant Salafist circles in Turkey. When the hunger strike spoke widely among Salafists, I talked with them and said “Some people just buy smartphones and they open Twitter accounts for supporting the campaign.

 

Yet, it was induced limited among Salafists, especially pro-ISIS circles, and this mobilization turn into an echo chamber of the topic. None of the human rights defenders weren’t interested in the hunger strike in Rusafa Prison. Apart from lawyers dealing with organization cases, no lawyers active in human rights have addressed the issue. Turkish structure of ISIS and its sympathizers and some takfiri people’s attitudes emerged during the campaign. 

 

This is exactly why, before writing about Rusafa, I thought it was necessary to make an introduction to the Turkish organization within ISIS, which is only talked about and written about through interviews and videos that have passed through certain propaganda filters.

It was another ordinary day, I got used to facing off interesting a lot of subjects while researching Salafists, especially about Turkey-origin ISIS circles, while re-reading resultless discussions of them on a dull morning, I came across a burst development, which even wasn’t known by many sympathizers, suddenly it caused open a different window for my inquiries. ISIS-convicted Turkish-origin women’s hunger strike had begun in Iraq.

 

ISIS fighters and their wives are known by anyone who bears on the Middle East in al Hol and Roj camps in Syria due to these camps often occupying headlines of popular research, while many people were in the dark about the foreign ISIS prisoners in Rusafa, in Baghdad. When Salafi accounts with few followers were talking about it, then I started to look at profiles about ISIS-convicted prisoner women in the capital of Iraq. I reached out to related many people including ISIS prisoners in Rusafa and the pieces of information, which I got, provided me with the understanding that the scenery wasn’t a simple hunger strike.

 

While has been continuing liberal discussion regarding whether imprisonment is a type of amelioration, various ISIS women from different nationalities, especially from Turkey, told me about judgement in Iraq was unfair thereby they started to campaign on social media platforms for back to Turkey and wanted to new trial. According to what women said, everyone in jail is “a prisoner of fate”, but it’s uncertain who is Jean Valjean.

 

Three years had passed since when Iraq’s Minister of Justice Haidar al-Zamily said to women “You might return to your country three months later,” when his visit to Rusafa Prison. Although there were a few repatriations, back to their countries had turned into a hopeless case for ISIS-convicted women in Rusafa. There isn’t any certain idea why Russian ISIS prisoners started a hunger strike in this period, even for people in Rusafa, but Russian origins were the engine for other prisoners.

 

The number of 274 Turkish ISIS prisoners are occupying Rusafa Prison. Some of them were highly active on social media and it wasn’t surprising for me. However, internet user women have avoided sharing any posts, which could be made coherence with ISIS. Quiet and careful, but with an Islamic façade, the women prisoners of ISIS, who seem to have managed to gather followers for a long time in a way that attracts the attention of their peers, have also managed to mobilize their followers to publicize the campaign with the hunger strike.

 

The developments about hunger strikes were spread by Salafist accounts, some Iraqi-based news platforms, and extremism researchers with vague interest. The hunger strike was announced with images and videos that induced mobilization in social media among the pro-ISIS people and some irrelevant Salafist circles in Turkey. When the hunger strike spoke widely among Salafists, I talked with them and said “Some people just buy smartphones and they open Twitter accounts for supporting the campaign.

 

Yet, it was induced limited among Salafists, especially pro-ISIS circles, and this mobilization turn into an echo chamber of the topic. None of the human rights defenders weren’t interested in the hunger strike in Rusafa Prison. Apart from lawyers dealing with organization cases, no lawyers active in human rights have addressed the issue. Turkish structure of ISIS and its sympathizers and some takfiri people’s attitudes emerged during the campaign. 

 

This is exactly why, before writing about Rusafa, I thought it was necessary to make an introduction to the Turkish organization within ISIS, which is only talked about and written about through interviews and videos that have passed through certain propaganda filters.

Turkish structures within ISIS

Other non-state armed groups’ videos against ISIS, court records purposed on judging the subject rather than understanding, and writings, which define the Turkish structure in ISIS drawing a frame quite away from the truth. For the aim of describing the Turkish ISIS structure’ standing and situation, I prefer to talk with the former high-ranking and middle-ranking persons, whose area of responsibility was Iraq. I thought that this Turkish structure, which I will summarise in the Iraqi context, would help us understand the background of the situation in Rusafa, and as a matter of fact, it did.

 

When the subject is ISIS, it’s quite difficult to knowledgeable people in detail. However, because I’ve been tracking for a while pro-ISIS circles networks, I found sources that can enlighten me about the Turks within ISIS.

 

There were two different methods for joining ISIS,” a former high-ranking ISIS official said, the first way was for those, who came to ISIS from out of Iraq and Syria, distributed to different frontlines and duties in the organization. “This was a strategy for those, who pledge allegiance (bay’ah) to ISIS that canalized the loyalty directly to leadership, rather than remaining it inside of groups. The leadership thought that even numbers of members of groups are small, it could prompt fraction problems.” According to the same source, as flows got intense to Iraq and Syria, the method of melting the same groups in the organization became dysfunctional. Although, ISIS used to implement of separation policy for the Turkish at the maximum level. “Individuals were gathered with their people to the reduction of language and coordination problems,” said a former high-ranking ISIS official who admits that this policy weakened the initial strategy somewhat.

 

What the former high-ranking ISIS official told about the military distribution of Turks in ISIS is coherent with the story of ISIS’ projection of geographical divisions, thereby taking attention to Tal Afar, where Turkmens are the majority, indicating Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Uzbek brigades and gives an example of using a common language to stay together “In Tel Afar, there was a commander named Abdul Hamid, who came from Azerbaijan and had combat experience in Afghanistan. For this reason, some people from Turkey chose to join his group.” It can help comprehend nation-based divisions in ISIS. This method still uses in al-Hol and Roj camps and in Rusafa Prison.

 

Otherwise, the arrivals from Turkey separated each other. Individuals were distributed as their homeland or groups. There were subgroups such as Ankara Group, Gaziantep Group, Konya Group, and Adana Group. But it wasn’t enough. The policy implemented to melt these groups in ISIS for preventing them become independent.

 

This shows that ISIS oscillates between compulsory orientation for fighters and their families and a policy of dissolution within the organization. The repercussions of this situation, which will be discussed in a later article, continue within the communities close to ISIS in Turkey. However, it should not be overlooked that this practice gives ISIS organizational space to oscillate through these individual groups. ISIS has also privileged some groups in order to ensure this oscillation and to hide by establishing multiple organizational chains.

 

According to the high-ranking source, there were some privileged groups like Adana and Gaziantep. “Adana and Gaziantep groups (jama’ah) were permission granted to protect their structures because they already found in 2006 and in 2008 joined al Qaeda in Iraq. The core of ISIS saw these groups as loyal from the beginning.” 

 

When ISIS placed individuals and groups in its ranks, the core had considered their attitude during the US occupation of Iraq and Sahwa (Sunni Awakening). “One of the closest associates of the ISIS former spokesman, Mohammed al-Adnani, was Abu Ahmed al-Azeri. His qualities were that he was skilled in intelligence and had remained loyal to al-Qaeda in Iraq during the Sahwa. Because of his loyalty, he was given a senior and special position.” This example, which was shared by a former high-ranking, seems to have had a reinforced effect implemented by ISIS to give a privilege to Adana and Gaziantep groups.

Tel Afar- the node point

The idea of gathering the Turkish-origin nations in Tal Afar was laid on the positive effects of common language, culture and same race with local Iraqi Turkmens. A former middle-ranking of ISIS member points out that the same tactic is used among Saudi Arabians. The leadership placed some groups of Saudis along the border of Iraq with Saudi Arabia. Tal Afar had transformed into a living space for families of ISIS fighters. The same source highlights the importance of Tal Afar as both human and financial sources with Fallujah. Also, Tal Afar and its periphery were the last bastion of ISIS in Iraq. 

 

After ISIS took Mosul and established dominance over northern Iraq, the Turkish fighters, who went to Tal Afar, took their wife with them, and/or married in the region. Anybody had been unaware of the funeral at the end of the four nuptials, and for they had lived in ISIS’ strongest term, absolutely none of them weren’t imagined walking under the scorching heat to surrender to Peshmerga forces just after a few years.

 

Three years after the first Turkish fighters arrived in the region, acquirements of ISIS had been annihilated in Iraq and all regions were controlled by Iraqi forces in August 2017. While the military dimension was occurring in the region, in al Ayyadiyya town, which could be called “Baghuz of Iraq” and placed eleven kilometres from Tal Afar, ISIS wives were on the road to Baghdad.

 

But not everything was simple, monotonous and over.

 

While the approaching Iraqi forces and International Coalition units toward Tal Afar, there were discussions in ISIS about the situation of women says a former high-ranking ISIS official, when some commenders suggested transportation of women to another place, the other officials responded as “If we send these women away, their husbands won’t fight, they’ll go with them,” and explains the question of why ISIS wives held in the al Ayadiyya while clashes near the town. This response is absolutely drawing an under-the-line of how these women were captured. 

 

Apparently, the most popular debate among the ISIS command echelon was over concern about the possibility of its members withdrawing from the frontlines for being together with their wives if changing the location of families in that period both in Syria and Iraq. According to the middle-ranking source, due to this concern, families had brought together in same the houses in the middle of the war.

 

The women’s testimonies were in line with those of former organisation officials.

 

When clashes were going on around al Ayadiyya, an ISIS-convicted Turkish female describes how she was sure they won’t send her to another location from town, “ISIS members came to us thereby giving us suicide vests. They told us to wear these, and warn us to mustn’t be captive. Some of them refused. And we didn’t wear the vests.

 

A former high-ranking official says on the giving suicide vests to women “ISIS used this option due to thought of the possibility of rape women by the Iraqi Army and Hashdi Shaabi,” and indicates that “In the days of ISIS’ loss of ground, frontlines changed often and roads became unsafe, they were taught how to use suicide vests. But, women didn’t choose it.

The Dark Dawn

In the last days of August 2017, hundreds of ISIS wives started to leave al Ayadiyya town at dawn. With the guidance of local Turkmen villagers, women and their children arrived at the Sahel al Maliha town, which is placed fourteen kilometres to the north, in toward evening after walking under the boiling heat, and through roads with land mines. 

 

Another ISIS bride, who describes they were made to seated in front of the school in Sahel al Maliha, tells how the process went wrong unexpectedly “We hadn’t a problem at first. Until an Uzbek woman detonated herself just sitting a few rows behind me. After the explosion, Peshmerga soldiers became enraged and naturally, their behaviours started to be negative to us.

 

An ISIS bride, who met with ISIS circles on social media platforms thereby went to Iraq from Turkey in contact with them while just the first months of ISIS declaring its caliphate, “When we surrendered to the Peshmerga, I thought it would be over. I never thought we would be sent to Baghdad,” said.

 

After a while buses arrived at Sahel al Maliha, and Peshmerga soldiers told them that they will head to Turkey, says another ISIS wife “Therefore, we were relieved,” and adds “But we panicked when we realized that the buses were heading south instead of north.

 

According to women’s narratives, while convoys leaving the Sahel al Maliha, two buses were taken away to an unknown location by the Iran-backed Iraqi armed group Hashd al-Shaabi.

 

One of the Turkish ISIS wives was on the bus “We were told that we are being taken away to Turkey while getting on a bus, instead, Hashd al Shaabi took us to an unknown place, which hasn’t a window. After spending six months, we were handed over to the Iraqi government. We were around 200 people with children and there were women from other nations.” summarized their situation but avoided giving details about it. While a group of women were kept waiting at some points, others were taken away to various regions of Baghdad before being placed in Rusafa Prison.

 

According to another Turkish female, before they were heading to Rusafa Prison, stop by two different places; Hammam al Alil, which placed in twenty-seven kilometres from Mosul in the south, and Tall Kayf Prison, which placed in the north of Mosul. “We were told we would only be here for ten days, but we have been in prison in Baghdad for nearly six years waiting to return home,” says the same source, and underlying that the legal process was made a fait accompli.

 

Multiple sources among Turkish ISIS-convicted wives say before they were taken away to Rusafa Prison, they were taken to court. The most incomprehensible process is this prosecution process for them. Women claim they were put on trial for ‘being members of ISIS’ and ‘crossing the border illegally’ and did not defend themselves, there wasn’t any lawyer and the judge was hurry to rule on everyone.

 

ISIS women were sentenced to death, life imprisonment and five years in prison. For able to return to Turkey, they say, signed the documents in Arabic that don’t know by most of them

 

It seems men could learn Arabic due to take in charge of various positions and their social circles in ISIS, women did not learn the language because just could contact other females from their nations. 

 

112 of 274 Turkish women were sentenced to death, the young ones five years in prison and the rest of the females were sentenced to life imprisonment women, who say from Rusafa adding that when the first lawyer was appointed a few years later, all death penalties were commuted to life sentences.

 

ISIS-convicted women wonder why the young ones are still in prison, while their sentences are already finished. 

The disappointment

After being left by ISIS and the notably complicated and long transfers from one point to another, women in Rusafa claim that they were incapacitated from all legal rights long time. With the appointment of a lawyer, although ISIS-convicted women had hoped for positive development, it did not materialise in the way they wanted.

 

The women were brought to Rusafa Prison with their children wanted those back kids to their homelands from Iraq. Indeed, it was not right that children in their formative years should be in prison, regardless of their parents’ offences. On the other hand, according to women’s claims, their children were being laboured by Iraqi jail employees.

 

Under these circumstances, ISIS-convicted women wanted to send their children to their countries. While the countries, which were involved in this process, took back the children from Rusafa Prison, according to claims of women, Turkey just ignored the demands. ISIS-convicted Turkish women and their families looked for alternatives, and they were paid $2000 for each child to repatriate the children to Turkey through a lawyer. 

 

ISIS-convicted women supply their needs with aid bags, which send by families or kinspeople in Rusafa Prison. These bags not just contain basic needs but also have cosmetic products. “We’re using these products for do not forget our femininity,” says one of the Turkish women.

Turkey stays silent

While waiting for an uncertain future, ISIS-convicted women persistently preach their request for a re-trial in Turkey. Even though a veteran new lawyer included the process of a lawsuit, women have no hope for repatriation to Turkey.

 

According to women’s narratives, the officials from the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad visited them for just blood tests and interviews, but since then, none of the Turkish authorities hasn’t connected with ISIS-convicted Turkish females in Rusafa Prison.

 

Turkish Embassy in Baghdad and two lawyers didn’t reply to my questions when I reached them for asking about claims of Turkish women, and their judicial process.

Hunger Strike

There are also Uighurs, Syrians, Trinidad and Tobagons, a Swedish, Germans, Russians and French females in Rusafa Prison. There’s an important point, which forgot by most women’s that taken away of death sentenced a Kyrgyz-origin US citizen female from Rusafa Prison to Kyrgyzstan.

 

The women say the officials from the Russian Embassy in Baghdad came with an offer that will carry over their penalty process in Russian prisons, however, Russian citizens rejected that.

 

Beatrice Eriksson, who is the co-founder of Repatriate the Children, say about why a Swedish ISIS bride is staying in Rusafa Prison that the lack of a prisoner swap deal between Sweden and Iraq, and Stockholm refrains from interference in the internal politics of Iraqi.

 

The fact that the ISIS wives went on hunger strike gives them hope by opening such small breaches in the wall of their predicament.

 

During the last days of the month of April (towards Eid al-Fitr) of the year 2023, Caucausian-origin Russian citizens had started the hunger strike aim for notice of their demands to return to Russia. While ISIS females from the West had avoided it, Turkish and Azerbaijani women, who are the majority in number in ISIS-convicted females, had supported the hunger strike. 

ISIS threat and warn by Iraq

The activity of ISIS females on social media talking about their situation and Rusafa Prison, and contact with various people from different backgrounds was displeasing ISIS.

 

The woman highlights that ISIS still has contacts in Rusafa Prison and expresses her fear “ISIS sent a message a while ago that no one would ever talk with journalists and researchers again. I can die here for another reason.

 

Similarly, Iraqi authorities were disturbed by the fact that the women ISIS prisoners in Rusafa Prison were able to gather support from different countries and reach a large enough audience to campaign on different social media platforms in various languages.

 

While support for women in Rusafa Prison was increasing, women prisoners interviewed say that Iraqi intelligence told ISIS-convicted women that in condition to keep the hunger strike, they will split and dispatch to other prisons and one of them will be Nasiriyah Central Prison.

 

Due to this warning from Iraqi Intelligence, the Turkish women announced that they had stopped their hunger strike, while the Caucasians continued. However, neither social media campaigns nor hunger strikes could bring the women to a point where they could return to their home countries and have a fair trial, as the majority of the women were from Turkey.

 

Also, some known Jihadi Salafi scholars did not comment on the questions posed to them.

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