A seven-year-old girl in a pink winter coat with a doll under her arm. On the basis of a police officer, she walks quietly to a white van standing by. Away from the house where she was probably detained for four years, as possession of an IS fighter. An ISer from Mosul, who, after the fall of the caliphate, sought refuge in a shabby district in the Turkish capital Ankara.
Footage of the rescue operation last month was broadcast by the major Turkish news channels. We also see the ISer being taken out of the building by agents with bulletproof vests. The man, identified as S.O., is in jail and will still be in court.
Correspondent Mitra Nazar went to the neighborhood where the girl was found:
Turkish intelligence found him after he offered the girl for sale on the darkweb, a hidden part of the Internet used by criminals. The police pretended to be a potential buyer and found out the address. A day later, the raid followed.
Who the girl is is still unknown. The ISer gave her a different name. Her family is also still in the dark. She is being taken care of by Turkish child protection for the time being. A Yazidi organization is trying to figure out if her family is still alive.
“We know very little at the moment, but we fear that terrible things have happened to her,” says Azad Baris, of the Jezidi Culture Foundation in Turkey. He thinks theres a good chance that her mother is somewhere in Turkey. “We are trying to put pressure on the Turkish authorities to look for her,” he says. Meanwhile, the foundation has distributed the girls picture in Jezidi networks in Iraq and worldwide. “We hope someone recognizes her. But its a difficult search, she was very young when IS kidnapped her.”
If she fails to find her family, Baris wants to make sure she is included in a Yazidi family in Iraq or elsewhere. “She needs to know that she is not alone. That she has a community, that there are people who are ready for her and want to take her back.”
Trade in Yazidis
It is not the first time that kidnapped Yazidis have been found in Turkey. In 2017, two Jezidi children, a brother and sister, were liberated. The children lived with an IS warrior in Kirsehir, a town near Ankara. He ran into the lamp trying to register the children for a residence permit. In recent years, at least ten kidnapped Jezidi women have been liberated, says the Yazidi organization. Women have also been offered for sale on the darkweb, a method that IS has been using for the trade in Jezidis.
The Turkish authorities say they are actively hunting ISers who are hiding in the country. Especially recently, many dormant IS cells are being rolled up. In the whole month of February, the police arrested 165 ISers in various places in the country. This week there was another major police operation in Istanbul. Fifteen addresses in ten districts were raided at the same time. In addition, eighteen ISers were arrested, sixteen of whom were from abroad. It is unknown how long they have been in Turkey.
Turkey as a refuge
The find of the girl shows that IS is still present in Turkey, says Baris. “Its no secret that many fighters came here after the fall of the caliphate. IS terrorists consider Turkey a safe place. That is no secret to the world.” He thinks that the Turkish police have done too little for too long. “There are neighborhoods where these warriors run freely, where they have houses. And no one does anything.”
The Sincan district in Ankara, where the Yazidi girl was found, has been known for years as one of the neighborhoods where ISers are hiding, says investigative journalist Hale Goluntas. “Last year a Yazidi woman was removed from an IS-house. We know that not only IS fighters, but also IS-sympathizers have Yazidi women in the house as their second or third wives.”
IS still active
There are around 3,000 missing Yazidis. “Of course we dont know how many of them are in Turkey,” says Gonultas. “But the fact that ISers in the middle of Ankara are trying to sell Jezidi women and children shows that IS is still active here too.”
With the last rescue campaign, the Turkish police show that they are taking it seriously, says Gonultas. “This is a sign that Turkey is working on tracking missing Yazidis.” The Turkish police have not responded to questions from DeccEit.