Iraq on Sunday sentenced 19 Russian women to life in prison for joining Islamic State, the latest in a series of heavy verdicts against foreign women linked to the jihadists.
The head of Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court, which deals with terrorism cases, said the women were found guilty of “joining and supporting ISIS,” according to an AFP journalist at the hearing.
Six women from Azerbaijan and four from Tajikistan were also condemned to life in prison Sunday on the same charge.
The women, who have the right to appeal against the sentences, entered the court one-by-one dressed in black headscarves and pink blouses, most of them accompanied by their children.
They addressed the court through a translator, a Russian-language professor at Baghdad University hired by their embassy for the trial.
“We will contact the parents to inform them of the verdict,” a Russian diplomat at the hearing told AFP.
ISIS took over nearly one third of Iraq in a blistering 2014 offensive, seizing control of the country’s second largest city, Mosul, among others.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared military victory over ISIS in December after a nine-month battle.
Iraq has detained at least 560 women and 600 children identified as jihadists or relatives of suspected ISIS fighters, and is wasting no time in putting them on trial. It has sentenced more than 300 people to death for joining ISIS, and more than 180 women have been sentenced to life in prison. Iraqi law allows people to be convicted of helping the terrorist group even if they are not accused of violence during the years since ISIS overran Iraq.
On April 18, Iraq sentenced five women from Azerbaijan and a woman from Trinidad to death and two Russian and French woman to life in prison for joining ISIS. A spokesperson for the Azerbaijan ministry of foreign affairs told The Defense Post on April 23 that the ministry was also not notified through official channels about the sentence. Earlier in April, the Baghdad court sentenced six Turkish women to death for ISIS membership and a seventh to life in prison. They had all joined their husbands in Iraq and Syria after 2014.
A German woman who had been condemned to death had her sentence reduced to life in prison, a German diplomatic source told The Defense Post last week.
Most of the women on trial Sunday claimed they were tricked into going to Iraq.
“I did not know we were in Iraq,” said one of the accused.
“I went with my husband and my children to Turkey to live there, and then I suddenly discovered that I was actually in Iraq.”
Experts estimate that Iraq is holding 20,000 people in jail over suspected IS membership. There is no official figure.
Iraqi courts have sentenced to death a total of more than 300 people, including dozens of foreigners, for belonging to ISIS, judicial sources said earlier this month.
Iraq’s anti-terrorism law empowers courts to convict people who are believed to have helped jihadists even if they are not accused of carrying out attacks.
With reporting from AFP