ISIS member on trial in Germany accused of enslaving Yazidi woman

Leonora Messing left Germany for Syria in 2015 when she was 15 years old

Leonora Messing is also charged with being a member of a terrorist group and weapons law offences. AFP
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A German member of ISIS who travelled to Syria as a 15-year-old girl to join the terrorist group went on trial at a court in Germany on Tuesday accused of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

Leonora Messing, now aged 22, and her husband allegedly enslaved a Yazidi woman in 2015. Prosecutors say she took part in human trafficking, after her husband bought and then sold the 33-year-old Yazidi woman. Ms Messing also faces charges of membership of a terrorist group and weapons law offences in a trial expected to go on until at least May.

The high-profile case has prompted soul searching in Germany about how a teenage girl from a small town became radicalised and joined the ISIS cause.

As a teenager she left her home in March 2015 and upon reaching Raqqa, Syria, became the third wife of a German citizen.

Her father, Maik Messing, a baker from the German village of Breitenbach, only learned his daughter had converted to a radical brand of Islam by opening her abandoned computer and reading her journal after her disappearance.

He then received a message from his daughter less than a week after she disappeared saying she had joined ISIS and “arrived in the caliphate".

“She was a good student,” he told broadcaster MDR in 2019.

“She used to go to a retirement home to read to the elderly. She took part in carnival as a majorette. That was when a lot of the people we know saw her for the last time.”

Without her family's knowledge, Ms Messing had been attending a Frankfurt mosque that Germany’s intelligence service were watching.

She gave birth to two children in ISIS-controlled territory and would eventually be detained in a Kurdish-controlled camp in northern Syria.

In December 2020, she was repatriated in one of four operations to take 54 people, most of them children, back to Germany.

Arrested upon her arrival at Frankfurt airport, Ms Messing was later released.

A German court in November issued the first ruling worldwide to recognise crimes against the Yazidi community as genocide. The verdict was described by activists as a historic win for the ethnic minority, which faced widespread persecution from ISIS.

Messing is among the more than 1,150 Islamists who left Germany from 2011 for Syria and Iraq, according to government findings.

Her case has attracted particular scrutiny due to her young age, and because her father agreed to be followed for four years by a team of reporters from public broadcaster NDR.

As part of the report, he made public thousands of messages he continued to exchange with his daughter, offering rare insights into daily life under IS, but also eventually her attempts to break free.

In December 2020, Messing was repatriated in one of four operations bringing a total of 54 people, most of them children, back to Germany.

Messing was arrested upon her arrival at Frankfurt airport but later released.

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Updated: January 25, 2022, 1:36 PM