Iraq sentences 15 Turkish women to death over ISIL membership

Ruling comes as authorities stand accused of misusing anti-terror law

FILE PHOTO: A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014.   To match Special Report MIDEAST-CRISIS/IRAQ-MOSUL    REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
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An Iraqi court has sentenced 15 Turkish women to death for being members of ISIL, signalling a concerted effort to punish foreigners who joined the group.

The verdict, in Baghdad on Sunday, was the heaviest punishment yet delivered on those who have fought with - or been deemed culpable of involvement with - ISIL.

Many foreign women came, or were brought, from overseas to join the militants following their push into Syria and northern Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi authorities are holding hundreds of them, as well as their children, saying they lived with the insurgents as they battled government forces.

Another Turkish woman received a life sentence for terrorism offences on Sunday.

Iraq's counter-terrorism law stipulates that aiding or belonging to ISIL carries the penalty of life in prison or death.

"The women had acknowledged the charges against them," the court said in a statement.


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Four of the women, all of whom were dressed in black, were accompanied by young children, he said.

Aged between 20 and 50, the women said they had entered Iraq illegally to join their husbands who were heading to fight for the self-proclaimed "caliphate".

One of them told the judge she had taken part in fighting against Iraqi forces alongside the jihadists, he said.

The women have one month to appeal the sentences.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi declared in December that ISIL had been militarily defeated after a campaign lasting more than three years to oust the group from territory it had seized including Mosul, the country's second largest city.

Human Rights Watch described Sunday court verdicts as unfair.

However Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute think tank, said that there was a track record of ISIL and Al Qaeda widows being recruited as suicide bombers, especially in Diyala province in eastern Iraq between 2009-2011.

"That doesn't prejudge the threat posed by any person now, just to underline that Iraqis have some reason to fear ISIL widows," Mr Knights told The National.

Despite what appears to be a crackdown by the Iraqi judiciary on ISIL widows some nationalities have received different treatment.

Last Thursday, authorities handed four Russian women and 27 children suspected of having links to ISIL over to Moscow.

The foreign ministry in Baghdad said the women and children had been investigated by local authorities who concluded that they did not participate in "terrorist operations against civilians and Iraqi security forces".

Additionally, last Monday, a court in Baghdad sentenced a Turkish woman to death, while 10 other foreign wives received life in prison for terrorism offences.

Last month, a German woman was sentenced to death on charges of providing logistical support to the insurgents.

Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, said Iraq is signalling that all those implicated with ISIL must expect punishment from the state.

"There's extremely low levels of sympathy for such people in the Iraqi political system, so it's broadly seen as the right thing to do. It's more the principle of punishing people associating with ISIL, and displaying loyalty to the group," he told The National.

More than 1,300 women and children surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga troops in August last year, after pro-government forces drove ISIL fighters from the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar. By February, Kurdish authorities announced they had detained some 4,000 suspected ISIL members, including foreigners.

Human Rights Watch urged Iraqi authorities to "develop a national strategy to prioritise the prosecution of those who committed the most serious crimes", saying it "opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an irreversible, degrading, and cruel punishment".

The New-York based watchdog said on Sunday that Baghdad is denying relatives of suspected insurgents security clearance to obtain identity cards, in what amounts to a form of "collective punishment".

"Iraq is continuing to foment anger among the very families whose husbands, sons joined ISIL by carrying out collective punishment, barring them from obtaining any ID cards, welfare, marriage certificates and keeping them from work and school," said Belkis Wille, the group's senior Iraq researcher.

Children denied birth certificates "may be considered stateless and may not be allowed to enrol in school", while widows who fail to get death certificates for their husbands cannot inherit or remarry.