- I and two other peshmergaer went five kilometers into the IS-controlled territory to retrieve Samira and the two children she had protected through time in captivity. We had an agreement with the coalition forces so that they would not bomb our car from the air, but keep an eye on some of the IS 'cars followed us, says Basil Hassaf.
Samira says about the first stages of the rescue operation which eventually got her and the children out after one year and eight months in captivity.
- The wife of IS-man that kept me trapped had struck me in the face so that the eye swelled up. I asked to go to the hospital for treatment. Luckily there was no one else who would care for their children, so it was no problem for me to take them. If anyone asked why I was there alone, so I could say that I was going to the hospital. From the hospital, a man came and took us to a hiding place.
Immediately Samira and the children were safe, could Hassaf brothers plan our route out of IS-controlled territory. They were moved again by car, and then they had to walk the last leg before Basil and peshmergaene could meet them. Samira bar the youngest child on her arm. Basil explains that he can not tell more about the details of the operation. They still use the same route to get people out.
Basil and his brother Khalil operates a network of resistance fighters inside the IS-controlled cities in Iraq. They use the network to coordinate actions to get rescued yezidikvinner and children who were taken prisoner during IS 'march in August 2014.
I hit Basil in a suburb of Duhok, the capital of the northernmost province in the Kurdish part of Iraq. Basil worked as a photographer at home Khana Sor in Sinjarområdet before IS came. In the living room hang family photos he has taken. Otherwise, the apartment sparsely furnished. Basil was in Duhok to print images when IS invaded home two years ago. He explains how it came to the brothers began to smuggle people out of the IS-controlled territories.
- To begin with, there was chaos. We saw all the people who fled from Sinjar, and that young yezidier we wanted to help. We began to gather people and organize accommodation in schools and other buildings. That was how it began, says Basil.
- There was also a lot of people who went missing after the disaster. We began collecting information about the missing, and we called some of our friends who still found themselves inside the IS-controlled territory. It was when we got the idea that we could ask these people for help to get people out.
To date, the two brothers saved more than 150 women and children out of the IS 'claws. They have created a reputation, and regularly receives death threats from IS. Usually there Khalil who takes care of coordination, while Basil providing logistics. Often he travels into IS territory to retrieve the women and children who have been freed. Today Khalil in Germany, and it is Basil sitting with emergency services. He has always beside him in case someone calls.
Rescue operations are risky and it is not always successful. The first time they tried to save Samira went wrong.
- Samira called Khalil and agreed time and place of the rescue operation, said Basil.
The brothers did not know was that IS the man who kept Samira caught standing next to a gun aimed at her head. It was the girl next door "Nadia," also a yezidi-woman trapped by IS, which had given Samira number of brothers and lent her a cell phone. She came over to Samira's house while the men were out, and explained how it worked. On the way back was "Nadia" discovered by the man she was prisoner. The two IS-men came together and made a plan to fight back against the brothers.
- There was a group of four people who came to save Samira out. Three of them were killed in the ambush as expected. Only one of them survived. He was an acquaintance of a local Emir and managed to negotiate themselves out of it. Later he came back and started working for us again, says Basil.
- In spite of what happened, we gave never up. Finally, we managed to save Samira and kids.
Basil takes me to Kabartoleiren for IDPs outside Duhok. Symmetrical rows of identical white tents stand in the middle of a dry and barren landscape, far from town. Here live almost 30 000 people in 6000 tent. Most of them are yezidier who fled Sinjar two years ago, but here are also some Muslims. The thermometer shows well over 40 degrees, and most residents remain inside the shade.
Samira lives in an approximately 20 square meter marquee along with the other surviving members of her extended family. Several family members are still missing. There are mattresses on the floor and a small TV in the corner. The family serves me tea, as it should be after the area's etiquette. The two children were rescued along with Samira is also here, a girl 6 years old and a boy of 2 years. The boy was only 5 months old when they were taken by IS. Samira tells what happened that fateful morning two years ago.
- We fled from Sinjar city to get away, but IS took us again in Dugri. Two IS-men arrived in a pickup with a doshka- A heavy machine gun - the truck. We were in a column of 30 cars, and they managed to take almost any prisoner.
Samira was taken along with his entire family and his uncle's family. Many of them managed to escape shortly after. They were in Shilo when an air raid against IS had an opening so they could escape. Samira and kids were kept elsewhere, and could not get away. It was the beginning of nearly two years of abuse and humiliation.
- They took us to a school in Tel Afar, and then to Badosh prison between Tel Afar and Mosul. Gradually they began to separate out the old and the kids, so it was only young women again. I had four children with me. They tried to take them from me, but I said this was my children and that they might be with me.
In reality, the four children Kusina children but Samira took them as their own so she could protect them. The two eldest, a girl aged 12 and a boy of 10 years, was taken from her when she was sold to a man in Tel Afar.
- The boy is taken to be indoctrinated to fight for IS, and the girl is sold to a man. We have not heard anything from them since, says Samira.
She has been made, but it is obvious that she is strongly influenced by what she has been through. Her eyes are shining as she talks about the missing children, but she does not cry. The 6 year old girl sitting above me on a mattress. She has spiky brown hair. She is curious and staring intently with steel blue eyes, but she did not smile. I can only imagine what she has seen during his short life.
A new life
- We never thought that something like this would happen, that our people would be taken by IS, says Basil.
Everyday life has become a completely different since the days back in the village Khana Sor.
- I was a photographer and had my own studio. My brother, Khalil, a lawyer. Last year I enlisted to peshmergastyrkene, but I work in the communication device. I do not carry weapons, but there is no alternative anymore. It's a hard thing, it is to kill.
Basil tells about the networks they have built up inside the IS-territories. They consist of cells of three or four people, and none of the cells can know about each other in case they are discovered. Each rescue operation is different. Some are relatively easy to implement, while others require several stages and several different cells that must be coordinated. Sometimes IS prepared ambush that they must fight his way out of, and sometimes people inside were arrested.
- Those who work with us on the inside are people we know from our previous lives. They are Arabs, and can live relatively safe under IS control. Mosul, for example, is very close to Sinjar, so I used to go there often.
Hassaf Brothers operates only in Iraq, in cities like Mosul, Tel Afar and Bahaj. If coming calls from people who were being held in Syria or other places where they do not have network, knows the other smugglers as they can pass the case on to. From humble beginnings, the brothers have developed network inside by snowball method.
- We began by asking a few friends if they would work with us to get people out. If they could, we asked them to find others who could. In this way we built our network slowly but surely. For every day that passes we know more people inside that helps us.
Rescue operations are not free. They can cost from 15 000 up to 120 000 per operation. Something's logistics, but many of helpers inside also charge for the risks they run. The Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, has opened an office that covers the costs of such operations.
- We are very open about what we do. We are working with the Prime Minister's office, with the authorities and we coordinate with security forces, says Basil.
I ask if Hassaf brothers even earn anything on operations.
- Impossible! We can not take money for doing this. This is humanitarian work.
Life after IS
There is a persistent problem in Kabartoleiren that several of the young women who are released, taking suicide afterwards. Although Samira obviously happy to be free, there is still a long road back to life. Housing situation, where she lives closely with the extended family, giving little privacy and space to process the trauma. For Samira is still the worst that she did not have anything to do. There is little supply in the camp, and it's fast that your mind about what happened will prevail when there is nothing else to do.
- They treated us very badly. They starved us, and the man raped me.
It is obvious that this is hard to talk about for Samira. I do not ask for details. It is already well known how IS treats sex slaves their. The man who held her lap was a local Turkmen from Tel Afar. He was 31 years old. Both he and his wife were completely convinced of IS's macabre ideology.
- The wife asked me why I signed up voluntarily for a suicide attack. Although she said she had done it in a heartbeat if that was not that she had four young children who needed her.
I ask Samira what hope she has for the future. She would go abroad, to Europe or the United States or Australia.
- I can not go back to Sinjar. It will never be the same. Wherever I go I can never forget what happened, but I might at least be able to move forward in life.