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IS group admit mass enslavement of Yazidi women and children

The group admitted to enslaving Yazidis in an online magazine and have released a new video featuring the British hostage John Cantlie
Hundreds of Yazidi women and children said to be enslaved and sold by the IS group (MEE/Will Carter)

An online magazine, purporting to be published by the Islamic State (IS), claimed on Sunday that IS has been involved in the mass enslavement of Yazidi women and children captured since their sweep across Iraq in June.

The 56-page colour publication included an article that said Yazidi women and children have been divided among IS fighters and sold on, with the suggestion that some were being used as concubines.

“The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrikin [polytheists] were sold by the Companions [of Prophet Muhammed] before them,” the article read, which went on to say it had been the largest mass enslavement since the early days of Islam.

IS fighters routed Yazidi minority communities living in the Mount Sinjar region of Iraq in August, threatening to execute them en mass unless they converted to Islam. Those who could escaped north to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region but some 50,000 found themselves unable to escape and had to make the dangerous journey across mountains to northern Iraq and Syria, where they have been living in makeshift refugee camps.

The IS magazine is called “Dabiq” – the name of a town in northern Syria and eschatological reference to the final days of humanity – and the front cover shows an IS flag mocked up and flying over St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City, encouraging the perception of a holy war between religions.

Revelations about the enslavement of Yazidi women and children came a day after Human Rights Watch released a video detailing the treatment of the minority by IS in Iraq. A video report included Yazidi women explaining how IS fighters killed men and compelled women and children to convert to Islam before forcibly marrying them off.

Elsewhere in the Dabiq magazine there is an article published under the name of IS-held British hostage and journalist John Cantlie, who has been held by the group for more than two years.

The article is 2,100 words long and titled “Hard Talk – the real story behind my videos”. Cantlie has been featured in a number of IS propaganda videos in recent weeks, in which he reads scripts to the camera lambasting the US-led coalition strikes on IS.

The article said Cantlie is being detained in a “dark room with a mattress on the floor,” without providing any further information.

“I try to stay very calm, tolerant and accepting of my situation…I am thankful for any comfort I receive and for every plate of food I get,” read words attributed to the British hostage.

The article blames British and American governments for the executions of other hostages – including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning – because the two Western nations had failed to negotiate with IS.

The article includes a stark warning that Cantlie will be executed unless “something changes very quickly and very radically,” which is presumably a reference to the continued coalition strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq.

A fourth video featuring Cantlie appeared online on Sunday, in which he read another script apparently under duress. He said IS is “dug in for the fight” and the West is being dragged into a war it cannot win.

It is unclear when the video was filmed, although it appears to have been shot prior to the execution of Alan Henning as Cantlie refers to the most recent beheading being David Haines. A video showing the apparent beheading of Henning was released on 3 October and one of Haines circulated on 13 September.

The father of John Cantlie has made an impassioned plea for IS to release his son, in a video message released on 3 October. Paul Cantlie said he had been overjoyed to see a video of his son, who some had presumed dead, but revealed the ongoing pain of knowing John was in grave danger.

“For the first time we experienced great relief seeing and hearing John and knowing that he is alive,” he said. “This was followed by the feeling of despair and helplessness.”

IS have executed a number of media workers, both local and foreign in Syria and Iraq. On Friday it emerged they had publicly executed 37-year-old Iraqi journalist Raad al-Azzami, who had apparently been killed for refusing to work with the group.

The group are also holding 26-year-old American Abdul-Rahman Kassig, who was threatened with execution in the Henning video.

Kassig is a humanitarian worker and recent convert to Islam. His family and friends have made public appeals for IS to release him.