WASHINGTON - The words of the young Yazidi woman echoed through the silent Senate hearing room, onlookers and grizzled lawmakers rapt in attention.
Without hesitation, Nadia Murad told them how in August 2014, Islamic State fighters attacked Sinjar, killed her mother and six of her brothers in a single day, and ended life as she knew it. She was 19 years old.
“I was raped and sold and was abused, but I was lucky,” she said through her interpreter. “Girls at the age of nine were raped, as well.”
Murad spoke of how she learned to live one hour at a time, treasuring every minute she was not sold or raped by another IS fighter. She spoke of how, after her first attempt at an escape, she was gang raped as a punishment. And she told them how she finally made it to safety with the help of a family in Mosul.
“I was freed but I do not enjoy the feeling because those who committed these crimes have not been held accountable,” Murad said.
Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is not the first time Murad, now a human rights advocate, has shared her story. But it seemed to impact U.S. lawmakers looking to better understand the IS terror group.
“We have a long way to go in fully understanding this, the American people do,” said Committee Chairman, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
The message from Murad and the other panelists was less than optimistic, each painting a picture of a terror group bent on spreading it’s vision no matter how long it takes.
“ISIS presents itself as a long-term project,” said Hassan Hassan, using an acronym for the terror group.
Hassan, a resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror," also cautioned that no matter how many defeats coalition forces inflict on the terror group in Iraq and Syria, its core membership will not be deterred.
“They want to exhaust the West, exhaust everyone else,” he said.
Tarek Elgawhary, director of religious studies at the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, warned IS members have become experts at finding ways to recruit and radicalize new members.
“There is a spectrum of extremism thought within Islam,” he told senators. “I think when they find somebody that looks like they’re from central casting, they’re able to pull them to that side.”
Nadia Murad told lawmakers she fears what IS may still be able to do, saying she was heartbroken by the terror attack in Orlando, where 49 people were killed by a shooter pledging his allegiance to the group.
“For no reason, they were killed and abused, just the way I was,” she said. “But I wasn’t surprised by this because I knew if ISIS was not stopped they would deliver their crimes everywhere.”