Treatment of Captured Women by Terrorist Groups

March 25, 2024 Kashvi Chaudhary


This research article presents a study on the way captured women are treated by terrorist groups, mainly ISIS. It also explores the roles women play, or are made to play in these organisations. The piece focuses on the way women are recruited and brainwashed by terrorist organisations, which majorly takes place on social media platforms. This article contains descriptions of terrorist propaganda to provide the readers with a context. The case of the Yazidi women is perhaps one of the most horrific crimes carried out by ISIS, and this study explores the incident, experiences of the Yazidi women and a dive into the aftermath of the situation. The research then talks about several literary sources from which terrorist organisations draw inspiration and their “justifications” for the way they treat women. The article also draws a brief emphasis on the women who join these organisations willingly, without being brainwashed. Lastly, an angle which one tends to overlook when talking about topics like these is the people who fund these terrorist groups and add to this cycle of inhumane conduct, torture, trauma and bloodshed.


The subjugation of women and their bodies has arguably existed as long as civilization has, and terrorist groups embody the epitome of patriarchy, blatantly, as their central persona. Women, at an alarming rate, are captured, lured or forced into being part of terrorist groups, often serving as sex slaves, and forced to reproduce. Often, terrorist groups use women to carry out certain tasks for them as they stir less suspicion. Not to mention, women may also develop a belief in fundamentalism and extremism and join these terrorist organizations willingly. However, this article specifically aims to explore the experiences of women who are entrapped by terrorist groups, their experiences, testimonials and “recovery”. However, the other side of this research conveys and analyses how these very things mean freedom to some women.

A Deep Dive into the ways Women are “Trapped” by Terrorist Organizations

“Al-Sabi”, according to the ISIS pamphlet refers to an enslaved woman, captured by “Muslims”. Girls from around the world, even from the West, are lured into fleeing to the Islamic State, and become ‘Jihadi Brides’, as teenagers. These recruitments usually occur online, and the terrorists essentially “guide” them into radicalisation and get them to act upon it. Getting in touch with young girls for radicalization processes is not complicated, because it takes place out in the open, on social media and the dark web, or more often than not, through friend groups. When one person gets radicalized, they are made to get others to believe in fundamentalism, and look at it as a “cause”. They are also taught tactics not to let their families get suspicious.

They are continuously brainwashed to the extent that they end up being terrified of being around their families because the terrorist recruiters make them believe that their families are extremists, and actively working against the cause they (the terrorists, and now, the “entrapped” person) believe in. They think of joining these organisations as a step towards going to heaven. They convince these girls that this is where they belong, and not with their families who are “unbelievers” and “infidels”. This leads them to leave their homes and join terrorist organizations.

Watch A video capturing Islamic State propaganda (Minute 08:30 – 09:00) -

Their journey to the Islamic State is planned from the moment the radicalization process starts, and numerous cases indicate this journey takes place by flying from their home country to Syria via Turkey. These girls are made to marry Islamic State terrorists, as young as even 12 or 13 years old, usually expected to give birth as soon as possible, as victims of rape. They are made to marry men whom they have not known or seen before. They subsequently get married to other members of the IS if their husbands are killed during fights. A woman from the IS named Yasmina, at 19, has been married six times since she was 13 years old as her husbands died as a result of wars . The women believe in this regime, and the legitimacy of the Islamic State and the blood-curdling ideas it preaches. They believe the health issues, miscarriages and physical pain they go through (as a result of beatings and rape) are caused by Western intervention. Even when a woman realizes she wants to escape and begins to see the true face of the regime, she is inevitably threatened by men of the regime, but also shamed and harassed by the brainwashed women and the “believers” at the camps.

In another case, a woman claimed her husband essentially “tricked” into joining a terrorist organization. This is the famous case of Sam El Hassani, who was allegedly deceived by her husband Moussa. The family lived In Indiana, USA, and had gone to Turkey, seemingly for a holiday, and then her husband forced Sam and the child across the border to Raqqah, Syria. Mousa eventually died, and Sam stayed in Syria. Fast forward to 2020, the narrative took a shocking turn. Sam pleaded guilty to financing ISIS’ activities and smuggled cash and gold over multiple trips to Hong Kong. She was sentenced to over six years in prison by the U.S. District Court.

Multiple other testimonials by women who have joined ISIS indicate that they believed it was an “Islamic community” and joined because they thought they were being “good Muslims”. She (who) was also recruited by ISIS through social media when she was 15. They usually expect that they will get married, have children, and live a “believer’s life”. While some may be aware of what awaits their fate, the reality is far more petrifying. They are kept in isolation, unaware of what is going on in the region. Tarina Shakil, a British citizen who lived in the ISIS camps in Syria claimed the women around her were “fanatics” and would often ask for a gun as a wedding gift . Another recurring narrative was that the women who confessed often felt threatened by other women around them in the camps. The other women would threaten to injure or burn them and their children, and this is one of the main reasons why the women took as long as they did to come out. The women claim that there are “ISIS Police”, who are on the lookout for those trying to escape ISIS, and put them in prison if they are found guilty of plotting an escape.

Females who join ISIS serve in the so-called Caliphate’s propaganda, receive sniper training, serve as suicide bombers, and are involved in radicalizing and grooming other women.

The term “Jihadi Brides” has been dedicated to (foreign) women who convert to Islam to join the Daesh fighters, and marry them. Although these women are not Muslims, the recruiting process is the same, nevertheless. They are recruited either by mutual connections, or online, mainly. They are also brainwashed the same way as other Muslim women, and are convinced to convert to Islam and that joining ISIS would draw them closer to heaven. Exceptions are always there, and some join ISIS willingly, with no requirement of brainwashing. Psychologically speaking, any person who believes in this propaganda is usually unsatisfied with their environment and/or government, and is usually looking for a “greater purpose” or a “sense of community”. These women also join ISIS as “comfort women” , and not necessarily as brides. However, the treatment of Jihadi Brides is not different from that of sexual slaves.

The underlying situation is evident – the women who have come out and confessed, admit that this was a mistake. The fortunate ones have been able to escape the terrorist regime, and thousands remain trapped in Syria. After the women come out of these situations, counselling, amongst helping women deal with the trauma involves de-radicalization efforts. Even though the women realise the injustice they endured, de-radicalization poses difficulty. After the women go through imprisonment by the state, they are sent to counselling programs and therapists emphasize the inclusion of these women in society rather than isolating them even further. They need to see everything that civil society has in store for them, which is an important tool in processing the things that were wrong with their previous experiences. De-radicalization programs involve disengagement from their past, and efforts to reverse the embedded radical ideas. It involves minimizing the victim’s engagement with the ideologies of terrorist groups, and right-wing/fundamentalist ideas in general since they have been “vulnerable” before.

Dr Malkanthi Hettiarachchi talks about de-radicalisation processes in the context of terrorism Sri Lanka has undergone. She has conducted assessments with inmates in detention centres going through de-radicalisation and investigation of their involvement in terrorist activities. She actively carries out rehabilitation workshops all over the world, with an emphasis on those entrapped by ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the LTTE. She delves into the processes of de-radicalisation and deconstructs those very ideas to reach their core. She talks about manipulation processes and the strict emphasis on “duty” in these organizations and brings attention to the little room one has to think with one’s mind when they are a part of such organizations or is being groomed by the fighters. She says that the information terrorists supply the recruits with may not be true, but only believable enough to trap them. Terrorist groups often play the role of “saviours” for those they attempt to brainwash.

Taliban is a regime that many women did not join willingly, but one that engulfed them. Apart from restrictions on education, regulations on clothing, interactions and social life of women, another prominent issue is the selling of girls as young as 8 or 9 years old for marriage, to men several decades older than them, who do not have children yet. Parents of these girls agree to these marriages due to poverty, subjecting them to a lifetime of misery. This speaks volumes about the extraordinary breakdown facing Afghanistan right now.

The Yazidi Women, ISIS Slavery & Dealing with Trauma

On the 3rd of August, 2014, Daesh, or the Islamic State attacked the small town of Sinjar in northern Iraq and carried out what many countries have recognized as genocide. Large-scale massacres were carried out against the population of Sinjar, and many of the women and girls were abducted as sex slaves. The Yazidis were a religious community in the town, and are currently displaced and live in camps around Iraq, while some have begun to return to Sinjar since 2016, as Sinjar was liberated by Kurdish fighters. The IS considers the Yazidis “devil worshippers” .

Interviews by Yazidis describe how thousands of them were either captured or slaughtered by ISIS in 2014 and depending on their age and marital status, they were sent to camps across Iraq and Syria, and young girls and women were sold in the Raqqa slave market as sex or domestic workers . The sons and husbands were shot, according to popular suspicion, and buried in a mass grave.

Several videos of IS propaganda have aired before, and one of the more harrowing ones involves them discussing selling Yazidi women. Yazidi women are considered “cheap” because they are from a different religion and were sold for 15 dollars among the IS members. To comprehend the scale of the abuse inflicted upon the Yazidi women, there is a story of a teenage girl who burnt her hair and faces to escape further abuse from IS fighters ; she now seeks treatment and refuge in Germany. In another famous interview of a Yazidi survivor, Ekhlas, she tells BBC how she was starved, prisoned and raped for six months. Rape is a genocidal crime according to the International Law. She says she tried to kill herself, multiple times, as is the case with every woman who was abducted and abused by the IS, and subjected to dehumanizing sexual, physical and emotional violence. Bahar Elias, in an interview with BBC, tells her story. She says she was enslaved along with her three daughters. She has to clean her owner's house, and also the houses of those her owner “leant” her to, and once she was done, she would be raped. She says although they are freed from ISIS, it’s like they are “the living dead”, and her children are altogether unable to process the trauma of the beatings, rape and slavery. The family was sold nearly five times before they were rescued.

The Yazidi women who were mothers were separated from their babies when the terrorist group invaded Sinjar, ironically, the ISIS pamphlet says it is illegal to rip away children from their mothers. On the other side of the story, Yazidi women had their rapists’ children while being in ISIS captivity. When Syrian territories slipped away from the hands of ISIS a few years ago, the Yazidi women were given two choices from their community: either to return home leaving their children behind, or to be with their children and not return home, but were promised they would be able to see their children, which turned out to be false.

According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as depression and addictive disorders are incredibly common among women who are subjected to sexual slavery and abuse. The journal mentions how these women live in fear of being shamed and rejected by their community and often conceal their trauma even while going through counselling. The Yazidi women frequently expressed hesitation in going back to their community not knowing whether they would welcome them back into the religion. PTSD involves symptoms such as repetitive dreams, flashbacks, irresponsiveness or “freezing”, being easily startled, especially when these women witness even slight violence again, difficulty falling asleep, and socially isolating themselves. Survivors of abuse frequently experience depersonalisation and identity disorders.

Apart from the sexual slavery aspect, it is important to remember these women are war survivors and often have to deal with war trauma too. Their testimonials indicate they have witnessed brutal killings, beheadings and bombings. The borderline is, a return to peace is rare for these women. This violence is inflicted upon these women by a patriarchal brutalist regime. Apart from mocking and threatening to murder them if they decide to speak up or run away, these women also serve as house slaves for ISIS wives, and the wives are usually tasked with making sure these women cannot escape slavery. Sometimes, the ISIS wives have to carry out these tasks “against their will”, as the testimonials of those who have escaped indicate.

Sayyid Qutb & The ISIS Pamphlet - Religious and “Legal” Justifications for the Violence

The writings of Sayyid Qutb inspired the idea of a holy war among many terrorist organisations, such as Al-Qaeda, aggressively fuelling their radical "jihadist" ideology. Several of his writings were antisemitic and against the Egyptian regime, claiming it was not "Islamic enough". One of his most famous writings illustrates his doctrine of “Jahiliyyah” – where he talks about pre-Islamic ignorance of societies, however, in a literal sense, the word means barbarism.

After studying in the United States for several years, he concluded that the country was morally corrupt. Esther Webman, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies, explains how Qutb's writing categorizes Jews as pagan and enemies of Islam. He used the term “Jihad” as a means to liberate the world from Jews. He was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was established in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna in 1928. The ideology behind the Brotherhood was to follow Islam in its purest form and rid oneself of all Western influences. The group held demonstrations around Cairo to implement Sharia in state laws. This led to much of the Brotherhood and Sayyid being imprisoned, and the former produced many of his radical ideas while behind bars. The movement assassinated Egypt’s former Prime Minister Mahmud al-Nuqrashi, and before the Brotherhood could assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, they were executed, including Qutb. Scholars say “Qutb is to Islam what Marx is to Communism”. A great deal of Sayyid's work was incorporated into the Muslim Brotherhood's ideas, and the group spread to Jordan, Syria, and Palestine by the middle of the 20th century.

According to an interview published by The Atlantic, ISIS and its supporters think and operate according to age-old “prophecies” in Islamic texts and they say what they are doing is “pre-ordained” and no one and stop those things from happening. The piece also recalls an incident where Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman invited Muslim Westerners to attack and “smash the heads” of infidels or non-believers.

The ISIS Law, excerpts of which are published by Human Rights Watch, disregards sexual slavery and rape as a form of violence and more than Islamic, their laws are brutalist. The ISIS Law makes it legal to capture women who are unbelievers of Islam and can be “distributed” among the men by the Imam. It is legal to sell and rape them, says the pamphlet. When it comes to young girls, the pamphlet also says it is permissible to rape them, or “enjoy them in other ways” if the girl isn’t “mature enough” for intercourse. The law says it is also permissible to beat the enslaved. Much of the selling also took place on social media websites, such as Twitter.

Interviews with escaped Yazidi women by The New York Times narrate how the IS fighters prayed before and after raping them because raping an unbeliever drew them “closer to God” . The United States and Western countries have emphasised the fact that ISIS incorporates parts of the Sharia Law. Apart from taking permission from their husbands for practically everything, the Sharia says that a woman cannot refuse sex from her husband without a “legitimate excuse”. It emphasises a marital right to intercourse.

ISIS Brides’ Quest Against Infidels

The primary manner in which Jihadi brides wage a war against infidels is by producing a new generation of ISIS fighters. To some brides, the ISIS is a perfect state. The women believe that the world is in a state of war, and are willing to pick up arms to establish a world ruled by the Islamic State.

                                                                                                                            Image Source: The Guardian

The girl in the photo is Umm Khattab, an 18-year-old Bangladeshi-British teenager, who joined ISIS, not with the idea of a utopian romance, but to wage a war against infidels. This is not an isolated case, rather, numerous young Jihadist Brides maintain social media pages and preach their ideas to the world. The idea of “oppression” does not come into play, because establishing a world that ISIS preaches is freedom for them. The women legitimately believe there are several perks and rewards of living under the Islamic State. The ISIS wives also maintain slaves and support polygamy. The brides clearly say they are not brainwashed, and only travel to Syria to support the Islamic State. The brides belong to almost every race and nationality and are not strictly Arabic-speaking. Several testimonies by ISIS brides indicate that they “love their parents” but would not hesitate to eradicate them if the parents are unbelievers.

The idea of “covering up” is not seen as an obligation, but rather as an honour by the Jihadist brides. They even add extra veils and gloves to make sure even an inch of skin does not show. While the brides are forbidden to participate in armed combat, their primary role is to raise the fighters’ children. The younger brides who belong to newer generations often post graphic images of punishments carried out by the fighters against non-believers, journalists and activists.

Patrons of the Violence & Terrorist Financing

While there are no specific “sponsors” for female violence carried out by terrorist organisations, there are those who fund these terrorist regimes, keeping this cycle of violence against females going. Ideological patrons of this violence are out in the open, while their financers hide behind their wealth. Indubitably, it is the rich who fund the Islamic State. ISIS has several fronts in Africa, and East Asia, majorly the Philippines. They rely on extracting money from local businesses, and money laundering, but most of their wealth comes from those in the Gulf who believe in the organisation’s cause. Experts say large donations are seen coming from Qatar, and the Al-Nusra Front operating in Syria, which has raised donations for ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Individuals, Mosques and NGOs around the world also donate in significant amounts to the group. While it is largely suspected the funds go from Saudi Arabia to ISIS, it is Qatar that comes at the forefront of these donations in the name of “Zakat”. In addition, ISIS also engages in drugs, arms and oil trade. These terrorist groups engage in oil smuggling from the Turkish border, according to NBC.

Jessica Davis, the President and Principal Consultant with Insight Threat Intelligence investigates how terrorists exploit local economic activities of their region. While states ban bank accounts and financial activities associated with terrorists, they do not have much control over private businesses’ affiliations with such groups. Terrorist organisations raise funds in several countries through NGOs and several such fronts, but wouldn’t necessarily carry out terror activities in those countries. Money laundering is a significant issue in terror financing. This is in part contributed by transnational organised crime groups, who carry out illegal business ventures in several countries to finance terrorist groups. While one may think that ISIS extracts its wealth through means of destruction and barbarism, its financing is clearly organised and very intentional.


Terrorist organisations impact women in numerous ways, and this article captures some of the intricacies of this process. It explores the way brainwashing works, and the way they use social media platforms to carry out the recruitment process. A lot of the women are from the Islamic community, but several are also foreign and become “Jihadi Brides” when they join ISIS. A crucial angle of exploration is the case of slavery and Yazidi women’s experiences with the terrorist organisation. Several women tried to kill themselves, some details of which the study explores. Finally, the research explores the scholarly works and the funding which fuel these organisations. The borderline is, that this article attempts to capture, although it might truly never, the trauma of being captured by a violent regime/organization. When it comes to the Yazidi women, the path to justice is long, and although it can never be served to these women, they still go through numerous legal processes and are even sometimes kept in detention for the government to make sure they are not guilty of terrorism.

The effort is for the readers to look at these stories with a sense of realization of why this is such a serious issue and that this is happening to real people, and are not just stories to be sorry about. The stories of the Yazidi women reflect the true nature of “personal is political”. These stories of thousands of enslaved and tortured women and massacred husbands are forgotten but reflect an alarming need for action – by social media platforms, educational systems, and global governments. Even if the Yazidis are now free, ISIS has shown the world the level of genocide it is capable of, by slaughtering an entire region. One of the key takeaways from this study is the cycle of terrorist financing and the systemic fueling of Daesh through Jihadist activities and the internet need to be tacked with urgency.


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About the Author:

Kashvi Chaudhary is working as a Research Intern at Indic Researchers Forum. She is currently pursuing her Master's in International Relations from King's College London


Thumbnail image source: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images. The research article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the organisation.

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