Amal Clooney files lawsuit against senior IS enslaver in pursuit of elusive justice for Yazidis

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Josie Ensor
·3 min read
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Amal Clooney, makes a speech during the United Nations Security Council meeting, alongside Yazidi Nadia Murad - Anadolu Agency 
Amal Clooney, makes a speech during the United Nations Security Council meeting, alongside Yazidi Nadia Murad - Anadolu Agency

Amal Clooney has launched a lawsuit on behalf of five Yazidi women against the most senior female member of the Islamic State in a bid to get justice that has so far eluded the minority.

The women were raped and enslaved by IS fighters after being captured from the Yazidis' homeland in northern Iraq in 2014.

The civil suit, the first case of its kind in the US, was filed this week at the US District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia against Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, also known as “Umm Sayyaf”, who is accused of holding the five woman as slaves in her home in Syria.

Umm Sayyaf was captured in 2015 by US Delta Force soldiers on the mission where they killed her husband, top IS financier Abu Sayyaf, and is currently being held by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.

Displaced Yazidis pass flee from Mount Sinjar after it was invaded by Islamic State fighters - Sam Tarling for The Telegraph
Displaced Yazidis pass flee from Mount Sinjar after it was invaded by Islamic State fighters - Sam Tarling for The Telegraph

“The criminal case in the US represents the only vehicle to hold Umm Sayyaf to account for her horrific crimes against our clients. They have already waited too long for their day in court,” said Ms Clooney, a human rights lawyer who has represented Yazidis in a number of cases.

Ms Clooney, who has pushed for the International Criminal Court to put IS fighters on trial, accused government leaders and the United Nations of failing to bring the extremists responsible for the genocide to justice.

There have been few legal victories for the Yazidis, who were kidnapped, enslaved and killed in their thousands when jihadists marauded Iraq and Syria as they forged their caliphate.

While IS suspects have been charged and sentenced, they have not specifically pertained to crimes against the Yazidis, which have been recognised as genocide by the UN.

Kayla Mueller was held alongside the Yazidi women by Umm Sayyaf - AP
Kayla Mueller was held alongside the Yazidi women by Umm Sayyaf - AP

The Sayyafs enslaved the Yazidi girls at their home in al-Shaddadi, Syria, along with one of the women's 15-year-old daughters, Inas, other Yazidis and captured American aid worker, Kayla Mueller, who were all subjected to torture, rape, beatings, and starvation.

It is alleged Umm Sayyaf routinely prepared and led the women and girls to be raped by IS militants, including by her husband and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader and self-proclaimed caliph of IS. Ms Mueller was killed, and Inas was never seen again.

Umm Sayyaf, 31, who reportedly cooperated with the CIA and Kurdish intelligence in the hunt for Baghdadi, has never been faced trial for any of the alleged crimes.

The US government in 2015 filed a criminal complaint against Umm Sayyaf solely for knowingly conspiring to provide material support to IS, but the case has been dormant since.

“Notwithstanding her clear involvement in the genocide of the Yazidis, US prosecutors never charged her for any of the human rights abuses she has committed,” said Daniel McLaughlin, senior staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability, which is helping bring the case.

“Even with a criminal complaint on file for the past five years, the US has never expanded the charges against her or sought her transfer from Iraq.”