Skip to main content

Islamic State: Turkish women prisoners in Iraq ask to be tried in Turkey

A letter signed by 37 women expresses regret for joining militant group and asks to be repatriated
A woman looks on at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp, where refugees and displaced live alongside families linked to the Islamic State, near Mosul, Iraq, on 11 May 2022 (AFP)
By Levent Kemal in Istanbul, Turkey and Çağatay Cebe

Dozens of Turkish women held in a high-security prison in Iraq for being members of the Islamic State (IS) are calling on Turkey to repatriate them and let them stand trial in their own country.

In a video message that was apparently recorded at the Rusafa prison in Baghdad, 37 women expressed regret for joining IS, saying that they had “made mistakes” while they were very young.

They also denied ever having participated in armed or non-armed struggle and asked the Turkish government to repatriate them.

In 2013, IS launched a brutal campaign to establish a so-called Islamic Caliphate, capturing swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq, and killing thousands of people over five years until its defeat in 2019.

More than 200 Turkish women surrendered to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the Tal Afar region in late 2017, and have since been held in the Rusafa prison.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


In phone conversations with Middle East Eye, some of the women said that they were transferred to Baghdad by the Peshmerga forces.

Iraqi judges had sentenced the underage girls to five years in prison, while the rest were first sentenced to death and then to life imprisonment, they told MEE.

They also said that there were no fair trials conducted in Iraq and that they wanted to be tried in Turkey instead.

In a separate statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, the 37 Turkish women claimed that their ties to IS had been completely severed due to the lengthy judicial process and the harsh conditions at the prison, signing a letter that said they now see IS as a terror group.

Aysegul Dindar, one of the prisoners, told MEE that the women had started their campaign to express remorse in the hope of receiving the amnesty that was rumoured on social media in January.

Firat Avci, founder of the Savasin Magdur Kadinlari ("War’s Women Victims") platform that aims to bring Turkish women back to Turkey for a fair trial, said that there are more women who express remorse for joining IS, but they are scared of retribution by the militant group.

Yonca Yilmaz, who started working in the textile industry at a young age, told MEE that a pro-IS friend convinced her to move to Iraq, arguing that she would escape the financial difficulties she had been facing.

She said she later realised her mistake and repeatedly tried to escape without success.

Another woman, Sena, 24, said that she went to Iraq with her family when she was a child and was not aware of the situation she was heading into.

Syria: Abandoned by their countries, children of Islamic State women educated in prison
Read More »

Earlier this month, Turkey and the United States said in a joint statement that it was important to repatriate IS-affiliated detainees and displaced persons from northeast Syria to their countries of origin, “where they can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into their communities of origin, and, as appropriate, brought to justice".

The statement gave hope to the Turkish prisoners in Baghdad, leading Dindar to thank the Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on social media.

Turkish sources familiar with the discussions told MEE that the Turkish prisoners in Iraq could also be considered as part of this process.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US partner group in Syria that is viewed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, also holds approximately 70,000 people who are allegedly affiliated with IS in the Roj and al-Hol camps, including an estimated 120 Turkish citizens.

Although there have been rumours from time to time within the international anti-IS coalition that Turkey will take back IS suspects who are Turkish citizens, no progress has been made so far.

Some IS prisoners and their families at the camps in Syria have claimed that the SDF has taken blood and DNA samples from them in recent months.

MEE was unable to verify these claims from official authorities.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.