The posting in Arabic is chilling. A girl for sale: “Virgin. Beautiful. 12 years old.... Her price has reached $12,500 and she will be sold soon.”
The advertisement, along with others for kittens, tactical gear and weapons, appeared on an encrypted Telegram app and was shared with The Associated Press by an activist with Iraq’s persecuted Yazidi community, which is trying to free an estimated 3,000 women and girls still held as sex slaves by IS extremists.
As the Islamic State group loses control of one city after another in its self-styled caliphate, it is tightening its grip on its captives, taking the Yazidis deeper into its territory and selling them as chattel on popular encrypted apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp, The Associated Press has found.
The extremists are targeting smugglers who rescue captives for assassination and are deploying a slave database with captives’ photos and owners’ names to prevent escape through checkpoints.
Thousands of Kurdish-speaking Yazidis were taken prisoner and thousands more were massacred when IS fighters overran their northern Iraqi villages in August 2014. Since then, as the Yazidi captives have been conscripted into sexual slavery, smugglers have managed to free 2,554 women and girls. But by May, an IS crackdown reduced those numbers to just 39 in the last six weeks, according to figures provided by the Kurdistan regional government.
The AP has obtained a batch of 48 head shots of the captives, smuggled out by an escapee. The portraits appear to be the same as those used in a database to prevent the captives from slipping past checkpoints, or for barter and sale on popular apps.
Mirza Danai, founder of the German-Iraqi aid organization Luftbrucke Irak, said the slave database documents the captives as if they were property.
“They register every slave, every person under their owner, and therefore if she escapes, every Daesh control or checkpoint, or security force - they know that this girl ... has escaped from this owner,” said Danai, using a common acronym to refer to IS.
One of those girls is Lamiya Aji Bashar, who in March made her fifth attempt at escape, running to the border with IS fighters in pursuit. A land mine exploded, and two Yazidi girls who were accompanying her were killed. The bomb left Lamiya blind in her right eye, her face scarred by melted skin.
Speaking from a bed at her uncle’s home in the northern Iraqi town of Baadre, the 18-year-told AP that despite being disfigured, she did not regret her perilous escape from her jailers.
“Even if I had lost both eyes, it would have been worth it,” she said, “because I have survived them.”
The Yazidis have been targeted by IS because they practice an ancient faith combining elements of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, and the Sunni extremists view them as infidels. The Yazidis’ pre-war population in Iraq was estimated at 500,000. Their number today is unknown.
US state department spokesperson John Kirby told the AP that the US continues “to be appalled by credible reports that Daesh is trafficking in human beings, and sex slavery in particular.”
“This depravity not only speaks to the degree to which Daesh cheapens life and repudiates the Islamic faith, it also strengthens our resolve to defeat them,” he said.