ISIS Women in Court: Nadine K. – Time to Reflect?

The women who left Germany to join ISIS and returned are standing trial. This CEP blog series follows the trials of some of these female returnees. The discussions on Monika K., Nadine K., and Marcia M. can be found here, here, and here. An overview of the state of prosecutions in Germany can be found here (available in English and German) and recent developments in repatriation here.

On a hot summer day in June 2023, the court room at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz is packed. National and international journalists, observers from Yazidi organizations, discreet police officers, and the defendant’s family and friends have all come to hear the verdict against female returnee Nadine K. All participants and observers stand as the presiding judge Martina Kohlmeyer reads aloud the verdict after 30 days of trial: nine years and three months in prison for, inter alia, membership in a foreign terrorist organization, violation of the war weapons control act, crimes against humanity by enslavement, deprivation of liberty, and persecution, as well as aiding and abetting genocide. If confirmed upon appeal, this would be the second longest prison sentence for a female returnee in Germany to date. But there are several other aspects that make the case of Nadine K. especially interesting and are worth highlighting.

Having brought an extensive list of charges against Nadine K., the Federal prosecutors saw most of their accusations and the evidence they presented during the trial confirmed by the court’s verdict. The court largely followed the prosecutors’ argument. According to their statement, Nadine K. had followed Ibrahim O., whom she had married according to Islamic law back to his home country Syria in December 2014, where the couple joined ISIS. While Ibrahim O. worked as a doctor, Nadine K. stayed at home to take care of the household and their two daughters. In April 2016 in Mosul, Ibrahim O. brought home an enslaved Yazidi woman, Naveen Al K. For three years, Naveen Al K. had to cook, clean, and take care of the couple’s children and animals. Nadine K. hence exploited Naveen Al K.’s situation for her own benefit. Ibrahim O. also raped the then 21-year-old regularly, a fact that, according to the court, Nadine K. did know about and enabled since she made sure that Naveen Al K. could not flee.

The crimes committed against Naveen Al K. were clearly the trial’s centerpiece. In July 2022, the abuse and exploitation of an enslaved Yazidi woman by a female ISIS member has been recognized by a German court in Hamburg as aiding and abetting genocide, an international crime, for the first time. In Koblenz, the presiding judge highlighted Naveen Al K.’s personal strength, as she agreed to travel from Iraq to testify in a foreign country, not knowing Germany’s culture, language, or legal system, but trusting in the rule of law in Germany.

A Women’s Guest House

The court found Nadine K. also guilty of having hosted, together with her husband, several German ISIS women in their house in Mosul. Interestingly, the judges argued that it was “irrelevant” whether Nadine K.’s house was an official ISIS women’s guest house, a so-called madafa. The couple’s villa fulfilled the same function: hosting single ISIS women who were not allowed to live alone either because they were divorced or because their husbands were on a training or combat mission, had been detained, or died.

A Quagmire of Evidence

Finally, Nadine K. was acquitted of charges regarding a war crime against property. The court argued that while all available information suggested that the couple had indeed “looted” their villa in Mosul from the original owners, there was not enough evidence to prove it. The defense had stressed this lack of evidence during their final statement. The court’s acknowledgment that they “do not know” is a positive sign. In several other cases, female returnees had been convicted for war crimes against property. The defense lawyers had argued that an accusation of such a serious crime supported by such little evidence would never have led to a conviction if this act was committed in Germany and not Syria or Iraq.

Indeed, evidence is one of the most challenging aspects of prosecuting returnees in their country of origin. Similar to several other cases, the testimonies of the Yazidi witness and co-plaintiff Naveen Al K. were crucial for the construction of charges and conviction of Nadine K. However, access to more objective evidence in returnee cases remains extremely difficult, for example proof of rent payments or actual involvement in combat beyond training. For the defense, accessing evidence that might exonerate the defendant is even more difficult. Nadine K.’s lawyers had requested to hear several (former) ISIS women as witnesses, which presented a separate set of challenges. For instance, one Finnish woman could not be forced to come testify in a German court and another German woman could not be located.

Missing Perpetrators

What exactly happened in Syria and Iraq remains elusive. What is also missing are some of the key perpetrators of ISIS crimes: its male members. The husbands of female returnees like Nadine K., Sara O., or Jalda A. remain the obvious blanks in these trials. Investigations are ongoing, but no German man has stood trial for crimes against Yazidis yet. This lack of prosecution and accountability is partly the consequence of a policy of inaction towards male foreign terrorist fighters detained in Northeast Syria for more than four years. The Kurdish administration recently announced its intent to prosecute foreigners themselves, but this is likely a move to put pressure on foreign governments to finally repatriate their nationals.

Living in a Bubble

In its statement, the court recognized Nadine K. as an “intelligent and self-confident woman,” whose previous life in Germany and behavior in court did not match the defendant’s “claim to naivety.” Nadine K. had surprised Ibrahim O. with her conversion the day of their Islamic marriage and had traveled to Syria after the genocide against the Yazidis, events that were notable in German and Western news. Indeed, female returnees often claim they did not know about ISIS crimes or their extent. But no matter how much these women knew or were able to control their individual lives, cases like Nadine K.’s demonstrate how adaptative and opportunistic many were.

The verdict is not yet legally binding, and the defense will likely appeal the verdict. Once the sentence is final, Nadine K. is hopefully able to use the time spent in prison to reflect on her decision-making as well as the deplorable consequences of her actions for herself and others. If she undertakes such critical reflection, this will be an important first step to reconstruct her life after release—potentially together with her children.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On January 23, 2019, two car bombs exploded outside of a mosque in Benghazi, Libya, killing 41 people and injuring 80 others. No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but remnants suggested an ISIS affiliate was responsible.  

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