Yazidi women seek justice in U.S. court for crimes committed by ISIL

April 29, 2021 – Alexandria, Virginia

Amal Clooney, the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP represent five Yazidi women as victims’ counsel in U.S. prosecution of an accused ISIL member.

On Tuesday, a motion filed by a group of five Yazidi women in the case against ISIL member Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar (also known as “Umm Sayyaf”) before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia became public. The Yazidi women are all victims of horrific crimes perpetrated by Umm Sayyaf and believe that she should be prosecuted in the United States for her role in the genocide of the Yazidis.

“The criminal case in the U.S. 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 Amal Clooney.

The women survived egregious crimes committed by Umm Sayyaf and her husband, Abu Sayyaf, an ISIL senior leader, as part of ISIL’s campaign to eradicate the Yazidi people.  During ISIL’s massacre of the Yazidis in the Sinjar region of Iraq in 2014, four of the women—all of whom were teenagers at the time—were kidnapped and sold as slaves, or sabaya, a central tactic in ISIL’s genocidal campaign.  The fifth woman’s 15-year old daughter, Inas, was also held at the Sayyaf house.

The Sayyafs enslaved the Yazidi girls at their home in Al-Shaddadi, Syria.  While enslaved, they, along with other Yazidis and a captured American aid worker, Kayla Mueller, were subjected to torture, rape, beatings, and starvation. Umm Sayyaf routinely prepared and led the women and girls to be raped by ISIL militants, including by Umm Sayyaf’s husband and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader and self-proclaimed caliph of ISIL. Kayla was reportedly killed, and Inas was never seen again.

Umm Sayyaf has never been brought to justice for her crimes against our clients. Following her capture by U.S. troops in 2015, the U.S. Government filed a criminal complaint against Umm Sayyaf solely for knowingly conspiring to provide material support to ISIL. But the case has been dormant since that time. “Notwithstanding her clear involvement in the genocide of the Yazidis, U.S. prosecutors never charged her for any of the human rights abuses she has committed,” said Daniel McLaughlin, senior staff attorney at CJA. “Even with a criminal complaint on file for the past five years, the U.S. has never expanded the charges against her or sought her transfer from Iraq.”

“Our clients have filed this motion to be recognized as crime victims under the CVRA and to ensure they have a voice in the process of holding Umm Sayyaf accountable for her crimes against them,” says Zainab Ahmad, Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “This right for victims to participate in the criminal justice process is exactly what the CVRA, which was passed in part to address the limited ability of terrorism victims to participate in the trial of the mastermind of the Oklahoma City bombing, is meant to protect.”

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For further inquiries, please contact Zainab Ahmad, Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP at zahmad@gibsondunn.com.