ISIS Women in Court: Nadine K. – What Role in the Yazidi Genocide?

The women who left Germany to join ISIS and returned are standing trial. This new CEP blog series follows the trials of some of these female returnees. The first part on Monika K. can be found 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 January 11, 2023, another trial against a female returnee began before the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. The allegations against Nadine K. are substantial. The German Federal Prosecutor charged her with membership in a foreign terrorist organization in conjunction with aiding and abetting genocide, crimes against humanity, aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, war crimes, as well as violation of the war weapons control act. Nadine K.’s alleged conduct also included aiding and abetting sexual assault, sexual coercion or rape, and (exploitation through) deprivation of liberty.

Falling in Love and Joining ISIS

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a basic judicial principal. However, based on the information provided in court so far, a timeline of events has emerged. Nadine K., 37 years old, was born in Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatine. Due to financial difficulties, she stopped her studies of computer sciences and began working in care and service jobs when she met her future husband under Islamic law Ibrahim N. O. from Syria. Reportedly, Ibrahim N. O. had gained prominence during the Syrian revolution, caring for wounded opposition members. As the risks of his activities in Syria increased, he faked his death and fled to Europe. After meeting Ibrahim N. O., Nadine K. converted to Islam in preparation of their marriage under Islamic law. It seems that her emotional attachment to Ibrahim N. O. as well as her radicalization through the consumption of online material led to her decision to follow him when he traveled to Turkey in late 2014. Presumably after having crossed the border to Syria, the couple joined ISIS, lived in several houses in Iraq and Syria, and had two children. While Nadine K. stayed at home, Ibrahim N. O. worked as a doctor and married several other women. The family stayed with ISIS until the end and was captured by Kurdish forces while attempting to flee from Baghouz in spring 2019. Ibrahim N. O. reportedly remains in detention in Northeast Syria. Nadine K. and her children were repatriated in March 2022. 

Following her repatriation, Nadine K. was arrested by German authorities and is accused of membership in ISIS. She is also, inter alia, charged with aiding and abetting the enslavement, exploitation, and rape of Naveen Al K., a Yazidi woman, between 2016 and 2019.

Germany’s Pioneering Role

Nadine K.’s potential role in the Yazidi genocide is one of the trial’s central aspects. It underlines once more Germany’s pioneering role in prosecuting both male and female ISIS members for crimes committed against Yazidis from the summer of 2014 onwards. For example, in November 2021, a German court convicted the first male ISIS member for genocide and in July 2022, the first German female returnee was convicted for, inter alia, aiding and abetting genocide. In January 2023, the German parliament recognized the crimes committed against the Yazidi community as genocide. Representatives from the Yazidi community in Germany—the largest outside of Iraq—saw this as an “extremely strong, important signal.” The role women played in the perpetration of this genocide is increasingly recognized by German authorities and has been used by prosecutors to support charges against female returnees of membership in a terrorist organization. So far, five women have been convicted (at least in first instance) for crimes against Yazidis in Germany. Prosecution of these crimes have also started in other European countries, such as France or the Netherlands.

The Unbearable Details of a Genocide

During the court proceedings in Koblenz, the judges read aloud the findings of the German structural investigation concerning ISIS international crimes. The unbearable details of the Yazidi genocide—accounts of men being shot, women and children enslaved and raped, lists of mass graves, destroyed shrines, the desperation and shame of the survivors—stood in contrast to the judges’ neutral tone. A few days later, Leonora M.—a friend of Nadine K. who briefly met Naveen Al K., the Yazidi survivor—testified that Naveen Al K. seemed happy and allegedly said that “she was in love with [Nadine K.’s] husband.”

When You Have Nowhere to Go

Naveen Al K. is a co-plaintiff in the case and traveled to Germany from Iraq to testify. According to her testimony, she and her family were happy before ISIS attacked. During her detailed questioning, Naveen Al K. described how she and other Yazidi women and girls were captured, auctioned, forced to convert to Islam, and raped by ISIS fighters. Naveen Al K. was eventually brought to Ibrahim N. O. as a ‘gift’, who was expected to take care of all household chores for him and his wives and was forced to pray with them. When Ibrahim N. O. came to her room to rape Naveen Al K., Nadine K. would leave the house. Naveen Al K. admitted that Nadine K. herself never hit her—contrary to Ibrahim N. O., who physically assaulted both women. Having to relive these experiences was clearly extremely difficult for Naveen Al K. Repeatedly, she asked for breaks and even fainted once.

Naveen Al K.’s statements during the proceedings incriminated Nadine K., as she did not let Naveen Al K. leave the house and exploited her through forced work. Other aspects are more difficult to establish, partly because the witness could not remember key details or because she could not understand conversations in English or German. For example, Naveen Al K. argued that Nadine K. “knew for sure” that Ibrahim N. O. was raping her and was against it. However, Naveen Al K. could not explain how she became aware of Nadine K.’s knowledge of and opposition to her rape. Also, Naveen Al K. said that even if she had managed to escape, she would not have gotten far because of ISIS’s presence.

“I Am Born a Yazidi and I Will Die as a Yazidi”

During her detention in Al Howl camp, Naveen Al K. finally revealed herself as a Yazidi to a British journalist and was reunited with her family. Until today, she suffers from back pain and nightmares. Nevertheless, she was determined to testify in the proceedings against Nadine K. and stressed that she was born a Yazidi and would die as a Yazidi, defying ISIS’s objective to destroy the Yazidi community through, inter alia, forced conversions, killings, and rape.

Contributions from Yazidi survivors are crucial in trials against ISIS members to ensure accountability for their crimes. But many challenges remain. Not only do potential witnesses and co-plaintiffs need to be located and be willing to testify in a German court. Adequate psychosocial support should be ensured before, during, and after the trial, and verdicts should at the very least be translated into English. During Naveen Al K.’s testimony linguistic, intercultural, and legal differences became apparent. A proposed—though controversial—reform of the international criminal code (VStGB) aims to address some of these issues.

It remains to be seen how the court will assess Naveen Al K.’s testimony. The trial is expected to continue until July 2023.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

We reiterate once again that the brigades will directly target US bases across the region in case the US enemy commits a folly and decides to strike our resistance fighters and their camps [in Iraq].

Abu Ali al-Askari, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) Security Official Mar. 2023
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