ISIS terrorists are living and operating in Turkey, some with Yazidis abducted from Syria or Iraq. For years, these Yazidi children and women have been enslaved, raped and sold. Most are survivors of the 2014 genocide by ISIS in the Sinjar region of Iraq. Even though it has been more than three years since ISIS was ousted from the last of the territory it seized in Syria and Iraq, these crimes are still taking place now.
ISIS (Islamic State), a Sunni jihadist terror group, declared the establishment of its caliphate in 2014. Since then, they have committed many crimes against non-Muslims – particularly Yazidis and Christians – in Iraq and Syria. Dr. Leah Farrall writes:
"ISIS systematically and violently targeted non-Sunni Syrians and Iraqis, expelling them from their homes, plundering their properties and businesses and claiming them as a war spoil (ghanima). Non-Muslim minorities were forced to pay a form of protection tax (jizya), or convert on threat of death. Thousands were taken hostage, ransomed, or executed, while others were enslaved.
The Ankara-based, veteran journalist Hale Gonultas has for years exposed the ISIS presence with Yazidi captives in Turkey. In a recent article, she wrote:
"Faced with the continued presence of IS cells within its borders, the Turkish state has been slow to respond to potential threats posed by the group, as well as inconsistencies in the judicial system's handling of IS suspects and the plight of Yazidis still held captive by some IS members in Turkey...
"Following the 2014 Sinjar massacre in Iraq, Yazidi women and children continue to be held captive and sexually abused by IS members living in Turkey – and elsewhere – though their number remains unknown. IS members use the dark web to sell and purchase Yazidi women and children they kidnapped from Sinjar."
Turkey is a long-established popular destination for ISIS members. Gonultas continues:
"A decade ago, people from around the world who sought to join a jihadist struggle and did so by joining IS, often used routes through Turkey and into Syria. Following the group's geographical defeat in 2017, the same routes were used in reverse.
"Returning jihadists and IS sympathizers from Turkey were among the main supporters of Syrian and Iraqi militants. This support, along with other aid, facilitated the sheltering and housing of many Iraqi and Syrian militants in Turkey.
"Currently, IS members that have returned are residing in the Turkish provinces of Antakya, Batman, Bursa, Diyarbakır, Gaziantep, Kayseri, Kırşehir, Konya, Yalova and Yozgat, with the largest groups in Ankara and İstanbul, according to data found in indictments and based on publicly available information regarding the location of where counterterrorism operations targeting IS are carried out.
"Ankara's Çubuk, Sincan and Pursaklar districts, along with the neighborhood of Saray have become popular areas to reside among foreign IS members. These districts and neighborhoods also host outlawed schools that provide education in line with jihadist values.
"Furthermore, Kırşehir is the city of choice for the close relatives and staff members of slain former IS leader al-Baghdadi. Although security forces often carry out counterterrorism operations in Kırşehir, a sizable IS presence remains in the city.
"In İstanbul, IS members have also found shelter in conservative districts. According to Interior Ministry statements, almost all IS members detained during counterterrorism operations in İstanbul have been Iraqi or Syrian citizens.
"It is common knowledge that the wives and children of [jihadist] Free Syria Army (FSA) members live in İstanbul's Başakşehir district and it is no secret that FSA fighters have settled in İstanbul, as well as other cities, and received Turkish citizenship. Many of the Syrian and Iraqi FSA fighters based in Turkey make their living by engaging in human smuggling...
"The most recent operation of note by Turkish authorities against IS was the capture and return of Kasım Güler from Syria on June 21, 2021. Güler had been appointed as the IS "governor" of Turkey. In his testimony, Güler said that after IS lost its territory in Syria, the group decided to reestablish itself in Turkey under the instructions of self-proclaimed Caliph and former IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before he was killed."
Gonultas has widely reported on Yazidi children and women kidnapped, raped, and sold by ISIS terrorists in Turkey.
In Ankara's Sincan district, for instance, a 24-year-old enslaved Yazidi woman was rescued after her relatives in Australia (who themselves are asylum-seekers) purchased her freedom on the dark web. The woman was held captive in a house in Sincan for 10 months and systematically raped. Signs of torture in the form of cigarette burns and razor cuts were found on her body.
"According to what I learned from the Yazidi community, this was actually the second time she had been sold. In 2018, her photo was posted online on a virtual slave market and she was sold within about an hour. The buyer was an Iraqi Turkmen IS member located in Mosul at the time."
Throughout her 27-year career as a journalist, Gonultas has extensively reported on jihadist organizations such as the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. In an interview with Gatestone, Gonultas said:
"In 2009 and 2010, there were mass movements for jihad from cities of Turkey, especially from Ankara, to Syria. There were demonstrations in Turkey by pro-jihad people with the flags of the ISIS caliphate. I have done research in neighborhoods in Turkey with a strong ISIS presence and investigated recruitment activities for ISIS and the profiles of those who joined ISIS.
"Out of all the Yazidi captives I have covered, the case that has devastated me the most is the Yazidi girl who was taken prisoner by ISIS in 2014 when she was 14."
"Her brother searched for her for years. Finally, he found her in Ankara. For more than a month, he wandered around the house where his sister was held. It turned out that the jihadist who held his sister captive is ISIS's emir [head] of the town of Tal Afar in Iraq. His sister was now 18 years old, and she had given birth to a daughter from the rape of ISIS. The Yazidi captive girl was eventually rescued, but she had to leave the child born from the rape of ISIS in Turkey... The Yazidi Spiritual Assembly does not accept children born from the rape of ISIS. Her brother was determined not to take his sister's baby to Iraq. I was really shattered by the moment when the mother left her baby behind."
According to Gonultas's article, a secrecy order was placed on the indictment against those ISIS members who had kidnapped a seven-year-old Yazidi child to Turkey and listed her for sale. These are allegedly high-ranking IS members. They are currently living in Ankara and remain free. Gonultas notes:
"I managed to obtain a copy of the indictment and found that all three suspects – believed to be IS members – had been released. The indictment stated that Iraqi citizens Anas V., Sabah A.H.O. and Nasser H.R. worked under Jabbar Salmman Ali Farhan Al Issawi, who was known as a figure close to slain former IS leader al-Baghdadi.
"The indictment referred to the three released men as "senior [terrorist] organizational leaders" and included information that Anas and Nazir were in charge of a 'Prisoners' Court' in Fallujah. All three alleged IS members are currently residing in Ankara and are on probation."
However, as Gonultas told Gatestone, it is still not possible to know the exact number of ISIS members and other jihadists, as well as their Yazidi captives, now living in Turkey:
"According to the publicly available data of the Turkish Ministry of Interior, police detention operations against ISIS are carried out in various cities of Turkey almost every day. Some ISIS members are tried at courts. Most of them also benefit from the 'Effective Remorse Law', according to which the penalty could be reduced or suspended.
"I am conducting one-on-one meetings with the lawyers dealing with ISIS cases in Turkey to prepare data and analysis on ISIS cases. However, it is difficult to obtain data on the detained ISIS members from state authorities. When we ask questions to authorities, it is not possible to get an answer from them.
"The route of those who have joined or returned from ISIS is the Syrian-Turkish border. Most of the detained ISIS members are Syrian or Iraqi citizens. Many ISIS members who are citizens of Turkey have also returned. However, it is difficult to estimate how many are still free with no trial date against them.
"ISIS members who enter Turkey from Syria can register at the Provincial Immigration Administration. They can also get ID cards for the women and children with them. Hence, it is not possible for me or any other private citizen to know the exact number of Yazidi women and children that are in the hands of ISIS in Turkey.
"However, based on my field studies, interviews, and news sources, I can say that there are at least 100 Yazidi women and children only in Ankara and its surrounding provinces held by ISIS members. But some Yazidi women are silent and accept captivity because they have given birth to two or three children from ISIS members, and they do not want to leave their children in Turkey."
Gonultas said she tries to take precautions for her safety and continues her investigative journalism despite a lack of transparency by the Turkish government. She told Gatestone:
"After I reported on Yazidi women's sales on the dark web, Ankara Anti-Terrorism teams came to my house. They emphasized that the buying and selling of foreign nationals within the borders of the Republic of Turkey is a 'human trafficking crime' and they claimed that I supported human trafficking through the press by publishing such news. An indictment was prepared against me. But then no lawsuit was filed.
"Meanwhile, I continue getting death threats both on social media and over the phone. A mass throat-cutting video was sent to my email. Then I got phone calls. One told me my own home address, and another spoke Arabic.
"After I received death threats, my lawyer filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor's office. In addition, some deputies asked both the ministry of the interior and the office of the presidency at the parliament how they 'ensured the safety of Hale Gönültaş'. But no legal protection has been given to me and no answer has been provided.
"I am careful not to go out when the threats I receive increase. When I am home, I do not open the door to those that I do not know. When I go out, I carry pepper spray in my pocket, and I watch my surroundings carefully as I walk."
Meanwhile, rescue operations to liberate Yazidi children and women from ISIS captivity and enslavement are ongoing. Pari Ibrahim, executive director of Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF), told Gatestone:
"There are still 2,717 Yezidis missing eight years after the Yezidi Genocide. It is incredible that so much time has passed and so little has been done. We know some of these have been killed in one way or another by ISIS. But we also know that some are alive. And very sad to say, we know that the ones who are alive are often held in areas controlled by Turkey or Turkish-backed militias in Syria. We have good information about ISIS perpetrators sheltering successfully in certain neighborhoods in Turkey. And in those instances where they are holding Yezidi women and children captive, this is where the survivors are located. Actually, this is a big embarrassment for a country like Turkey.
"Steps could be taken to identify and bring to justice all ISIS members, and in so doing, we may identify and rescue Yezidis who remain in captivity eight years later. FYF and other Yezidi organizations and activists have been pressing for serious, concerted international action to help rescue the missing. But very little is being done. Every individual or official actor giving safe haven to ISIS terrorists is committing a serious offense. I do not believe ISIS members should be able to settle anywhere, and police authorities should actively search for them in every country. At the same time, the rescue of innocent Yezidi captives should be an associated priority. This is for security and safety but also for humanitarian and human rights reasons. These missing Yezidis have suffered enormously, and their rights must not be ignored."
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.