Accessibility links

Breaking News

Life Under Islamic State: Abducted, Trained and Forced to Fight  

Daoud, 19, was kidnapped when he was 15-years-old and forced to fight with IS before he was rescued in August, pictured on Sept. 29, 2019 in Khanke, Kurdistan Region, Iraq. (Heather Murdock/VOA)

As Islamic State militants lost their territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria, VOA chronicled the events through the words of the victims, in a 12-part series called "Life Under Islamic State."

Now we bring you voices of victims who were silenced until recently. Officials estimate nearly 3,000 Yazidi people remain missing after being captured and enslaved by IS.

When Daoud was 15, he was kidnapped, trained and forced to fight for the militant group. He was imprisoned after the final battles. These are his words, told to us in the tent where he lives with his brother in an informal refugee camp. They are are translated into English and edited for clarity.

It was August 3, 2014 and we were preparing to flee when the militants captured us. My sister, mother, father and five of my brothers are still missing.

The IS fighters told my father and older brothers that they must convert to Islam. Then, they took my family away and sent me to a school in Tal Afar, Iraq. It was called the Sharia Institute, and it mostly taught religion.

Officials Call for Rescue of Thousands of Yazidi Captives
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:25 0:00

But there were other classes. One class was called "The Aim of Jihad." It was lessons in terrorism. They taught us who to kill, how to kill and how to identify infidels that should be killed. They taught us what the punishment is for non-Muslims and what the punishment is for people who abandon Islam. We learned how to use weapons, like the BKCs and AK-47s.

There were 200 students, but only 11 were, like me, Yazidi captives.

Some of the boys were true believers but I don't think all of them. No one could openly say, "I don't believe in this," but when the training was over, some of the boys went home and didn't join IS.

Of course, we, the Yazidi boys, didn't have that option.

After the training, they took us to one of their bases near Raqqa, Syria. This was the first time I saw my brother since I was captured. We kissed and hugged and felt joy.

Fighting unit

The group I was with grew, and became a unit of 33 Yazidis living together. We had one IS member living with us in the base. He cooked. They moved us around Syria, first to Homs, then to Der Ezzor. We took turns fighting on the front lines. In Der Ezzor we were fighting Syrian government forces near the airport.

You know, not all the fighters believed in the ideology. Some just wanted the salary. They got $100 a month for fighting. It was $200 if they were married, and $50 extra for each child. We, the Yazidi boys, were paid the same.

We only knew that some people were faking their beliefs toward the end. When IS stopped paying monthly salaries, some of the fighters said, "We were only here for the money," and left.

In five years, I never forgot I was Yazidi or believed in IS. They would try to tell us to conduct executions in public places, but we would refuse. They would then kill the accused in front of us.

During this time, some of the Yazidi boys got married. Some grew to believe in IS's ideology 100 percent. I know five boys that blew themselves up as suicide bombers.

Most of the Yazidi population of Iraq — hundreds of thousands — are displaced, living in formal camps or in towns clustered with tents and makeshift encampments, pictured on Sept. 28, 2019 in Khanke, Kurdistan Region, Iraq. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
Most of the Yazidi population of Iraq — hundreds of thousands — are displaced, living in formal camps or in towns clustered with tents and makeshift encampments, pictured on Sept. 28, 2019 in Khanke, Kurdistan Region, Iraq. (Heather Murdock/VOA)


The first time I tried to escape was from the school in Tal Afar. They caught me and put me in jail for 17 days. The second time I tried, my brother and I tried to hire a smuggler. But we were caught and spent three days in prison.

In 2018, I made my third attempt as we retreated with IS. The militants were losing towns they once held and I tried to hire a smuggler again. But it did not work.

The fourth time was from Baghouz, the last IS stronghold. People were packed into tents and tunnels. It was so crowded that one day thousands of militants and their families were killed by airstrikes in a single night. In only one night!

I was told the Kurdish and collation forces would torture and kill me if I surrendered. They would see me only as another IS militant.

But then we were surrounded and I was shot in the shoulder. I joined the women and children who were fleeing for their lives.

This was in March 2019. I told the Syrian Democratic Forces I was a Yazidi captive, not an IS fighter by choice. They handcuffed me, blindfolded me and took me to prison.

Road to freedom

The first weeks in prison were the worst. There was no air inside. Dozens of people died in the crowded cell. If they took someone away to investigate, they had to be dragged back in because they couldn't walk on their own when they returned.

Four months later, they took me to another prison and investigated me for two days. They believed me and took me to the Yazidi House in Syria, a transit center for rescued captives. That was in August.

At first, when I came back to my family, I was nervous. I thought everyone would look at me with suspicion. They would know I fought with IS. Would they think I wanted to?

But they don't think like that. They don't blame us. So I am okay here except my gunshot wound was never treated. I cannot work. I cannot even sit in a car for more than an hour.

I do take English classes from an NGO on weekends. And there is a girl who I met in the Yazidi House who takes the same class. I brought a necklace for her.