German court tries ISIS suspect over Yazidi genocide

FRANKFORT, Germany (AFP) – A man believed to have belonged to Islamic State goes on trial in Germany on Friday accused of genocide and murdering a child belonging to the Yazidi minority who he held as a slave.

Identified only as Taha al-J., the 37-year-old Iraqi man is also accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and human trafficking in the case, heard before Frankfurt judges.

His wife, a German woman named Jennifer Wenisch, has been on trial for a year at a Munich court.

She too is charged with murdering the young Yazidi girl who the pair are believed to have allowed to die of thirst in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2015.

The start of Wenisch’s trial in April last year appeared to be the first formal proceeding anywhere in the world related to Islamic State persecution of the Yazidi community.

A Kurdish-speaking group hailing from northern Iraq, the Yazidis were specifically targeted and oppressed by the jihadists beginning in 2015.

The mother of the young girl, identified only by her first name Nora, has repeatedly testified in Munich about the torment visited on her child, named as Rania.

Court documents allege that Taha al-J. joined ISIS in March 2013, holding different positions within its hierarchy in the group’s “capital” in the Syrian city of Raqqa, as well as in Iraq and Turkey.

Death by heat

German prosecutors say the accused bought a woman belonging to the Yazidi minority and her five-year-old daughter as slaves at the end of May or beginning of June 2015.

He then took them to Fallujah, where they were seriously maltreated and at times deprived of food, the prosecutors allege.

In the summer of 2015, after a string of such abuses, the young girl was chained by al-J to the window of a house where she lived with her mother, as “punishment” for having wet the bed.

She died of thirst in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

The couple also forced her mother to walk barefoot on the scorching ground outside, inflicting severe burns.

Mother and daughter had been kidnapped in summer 2014 after ISIS invaded the Sinjar region of Iraq.

They were repeatedly sold on “slave markets,” prosecutors say.

The Frankfurt case is expected to last until at least August, and is being heard under tight police guard.

Al-J. was arrested in Greece in May 2019, before being extradited to Germany in October, where he has since been held in pre-trial custody.

‘No order to exterminate’

Both Lebanese-British lawyer Amal Clooney and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad – herself a survivor of ISIS sexual slavery and a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner – have represented the mother of the young girl at Wenisch’s Munich trial.

The two women lead an international campaign to classify ISIS crimes against the Yazidi as genocide.

But proving before a court that genocide has taken place is difficult.

The explicit will to destroy a group such as the Yazidi must be demonstrated to judges’ satisfaction.

“There is often no order to wipe out” a group, University of Leipzig legal expert Alexander Schwarz told AFP.

“There are no written instructions where ‘exterminate the Yazidi’ appears.”

The small ethnic and religious minority of the Yazidi is believed to have been most ferociously persecuted by the jihadists, who forced their women into sexual slavery, recruited the underage as child soldiers and murdered hundreds of men.

In August 2014, the killings of 1,280 Yazidi and kidnappings of 6,400 more may have constituted a genocide according to the United Nations.

Non-Arab, non-Muslim Iraqis, many Yazidi have fled to Germany.

Murad is among those to have passed through a program there for woman and children – many victims of repeated rapes – since its inception in 2014.

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