ISIL Atrocities Against the Yazidi

U.S. v. Umm Sayyaf

Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar (“Umm Sayyaf”) and her husband, Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi (“Abu Sayyaf”) enslaved women and girls. The Sayyafs kept at least seven Yazidi girls and American aid worker, Kayla Mueller, in their home in Al-Shaddadi, Syria, subjecting them to beatings, torture, and sexual violence. The enslaved women were made available to ISIL fighters visiting the house, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of ISIL.

In May 2015, U.S. Special Operations forces raided the home, capturing Umm Sayyaf and liberating a Yazidi victim. Abu Sayyaf – a senior ISIL leader – was killed in the raid. U.S. forces eventually transferred Umm Sayyaf to the custody of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Details surrounding the Iraqi trial and sentencing of Umm Sayyaf remain unclear.

On February 9, 2016, U.S. prosecutors filed a criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia against Umm Sayyaf with a single count under 18 U.S.C. §2339(b) for “knowingly and intentionally […] conspir[ing] to provide material support to a terrorist organization.”  Meanwhile, the KRG launched criminal proceedings against Umm Sayyaf in Erbil. To our knowledge, no witnesses were examined. The trial was closed to victims and the media. Sometime in the spring of 2016, Umm Sayyaf was reportedly convicted of a crime related to ISIL membership.

Umm Sayyaf was never charged with torture, enslavement, or genocide. She was never held accountable for her crimes against the women and girls she enslaved. Meanwhile, the U.S. prosecution of Umm Sayyaf has not advanced since the complaint was filed in 2016. Despite an outstanding U.S. federal arrest warrant against Umm Sayyaf, there is no indication that U.S. authorities have requested her extradition from Iraq so she can stand trial in U.S. court. Nor has the United States been willing to ensure that the charges against Umm Sayyaf properly reflect the totality of her crimes, including torture and complicity in the genocide of the Yazidis.

CJA lawyers are working with co-counsel Amal Clooney and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP on behalf of five Yazidi women and girls in U.S. v. Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar (a/k/a “Umm Sayyaf”). Our clients are seeking to enforce their rights as victims of Umm Sayyaf and to hold her to account for the crimes that she committed against them and their community, starting with seeing her transferred to the U.S. to stand trial for her human rights crimes, including torture, sex trafficking, and genocide. The crimes of Umm Sayyaf and other ISIL members should be adjudicated in transparent public proceedings, with meaningful participation by victims and due process protections for all defendants, regardless of the charges against them.

On April 19, 2021, our clients submitted a motion in federal court asking that the U.S. government respect their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA). On July 2, 2021, the U.S. Government filed its Response, which we replied to on July 21, 2021. The CVRA was designed to ensure that the interests of victims are represented in the criminal justice process. Rights under the CVRA include the right to confer with prosecutors, to receive timely notice, and to be heard at stages throughout the criminal proceedings.

CJA has sought to enforce the rights of atrocity victims under the CVRA in other cases, including the U.S. prosecution of Michael Sang Correa.