Minorities Express Cautious Optimism after al-Baghdadi's Death
By Sirwan Kajjo, Nisan Ahmado, Madeeha Anwar, Mohammad Habibzada October 28, 2019
Ethnic and religious minorities around the world that have suffered from the Islamic State (IS) terror group's extremist ideology are expressing happiness after the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a U.S. operation over the weekend in northwestern Syria.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced the death of al-Baghdadi on Sunday. Trump said al-Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest while being pursued by U.S. forces in Syria, killing himself and three of his children.
"He should have been killed a long time ago," said Layla Taalo, a Yazidi woman who was taken by IS as a sex slave when the militants stormed the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar in August 2014.
Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, are viewed as heretics by IS.
During the 2014 onslaught on the Yazidi town of Sinjar, IS fighters killed scores of Yazidi men and enslaved several thousand women and girls in atrocities that amounted to genocide, according to the U.N.
Taalo was in IS captivity in Syria for more than two years before she was freed by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria.
"When I was held captive, I tried many times to find out where [al-Baghdadi's] location was, but the militant that was holding me captive would not let me see him," she told VOA.
Taalo, who won the Mother Teresa Memorial Award in 2018, added that, "Today, I am very happy that [al-Baghdadi] is dead because what he did to us was very big. He is the reason this happened to us. Now, all I want is for those that were involved to be brought to justice."
"Killing this man will bring stability to the region," said Hadi Babashekh, Head of the Media Office at the Yazidi Spiritual Council, the highest religious authority for Yazidis.
"This is good news for Yazidi women survivors. Now we remember those who lost their lives in Sinjar by the hands of this terror group. Kudos to the team that carried out this operation, although we did not want him to be killed. We wanted him to be captured alive and brought to justice," he told VOA.
Christians under IS
While IS brutalized all people under its rule, the terror group particularly targeted non-Muslim religious minorities in areas it controlled in Syria and Iraq.
When the extremist group took control of large swaths of territory in both countries in 2014, it reinstated the jizya, an Islamic tax imposed on non-Muslims. Under that law, Christians were forced to pay monthly or yearly fees for living in IS-held territory.
Many Christians were also forced either to convert to Islam or face ill-treatment at the hands of IS militants.
"Baghdadi's death is good news for all Syrians and for Christians in particular," said Aram Shavarshian, an Armenian Christian activist from Qamishli, Syria.
"His terror group seized houses and churches of Christians. They forced Christian residents to leave their native lands. They turned churches into places of detention and torture," he told VOA.
From its rise in 2014 until its final days in 2019, IS plundered, destroyed and burned all Christian landmarks, including churches and museums.
In a propaganda video disseminated online, IS militants were seen dismantling Christian artifacts and statues with sledgehammers and destroying historical collections when they took control of the Iraq city of Mosul in 2014.
In the Syrian city of Raqqa, which was IS's de facto capital until it was freed by U.S.-backed forces in October 2017, IS turned the main Christian church in the city into a security headquarters, where thousands of local residents were reportedly investigated and tortured.
Jimmy Shahinian, a Christian from Raqqa who fled the city when IS took control of it in 2014, is less optimistic about what comes next after al-Baghdadi's death.
"I'm pleased with al-Baghdadi's death, but he is only one of many more figures who have incited violence and hatred in Syria. His death doesn't mean the end of terrorism," he told VOA.
IS not over
Shahinian's views were echoed by many in the Druze community in Syria.
IS "has a terror ideology and this ideology is hard to vanish without dealing with issues like poverty and corruption," said Rayan Ma'arof, a journalist based in the southern Syrian city of Swaida.
"This group killed thousands of people, and killing its leader doesn't mean that the group is ending," he said.
The Druze, an ancient religious sect with ties to Shi'ite Islam, has significant communities in Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
In July 2018, IS claimed responsibility for an attack on 10 villages in Swaida, killing at least 260 people. IS militants also took Druze women as sex slaves.
Ma'arof says IS still has presence in the area and could regroup and attack Druze civilians again. He said "people are still afraid and many armed men in Swaida still carry out patrols to guard their area."
Shi'ites still threatened in Pakistan
IS and its affiliates have also carried several attacks against the Shi'ite minority in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Although the Pakistani government denies any presence of IS in the country, experts said IS has a significant number of militants affiliated with the terror group in the country.
Jalila Haider, a Hazara Shi'ite rights advocate, said despite al-Baghdadi's death, her community still feels threatened by IS militants.
IS "is not about Baghdadi or a single person. It's a dangerous ideology," she told VOA.
"So what if Baghdadi is dead? I don't think Baghdadi's death means anything to Pakistan or to the world," she added.
Justice not served'
For years IS has been expanding its presence in parts of Afghanistan. It has also persecuted religious minorities including Shi'ites in the conflict-ridden country.
While members of the Sikh religious community in Afghanistan expressed happiness over the killing of IS leader, they said death alone doesn't serve justice for victims of IS atrocities.
Narender Singh Khalsa, who is a Sikh member of the Afghan parliament, said his father was killed in a suicide attack claimed by IS last July in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
"Baghdadi was the father of IS. It's good that he is dead. His killing would affect the group's morale. They have committed brutal acts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. They would be vanished soon," he told VOA.
Khalsa, who also lost other relatives in the July attack, added that, "this is not revenge. Revenge happens when we see the murderer tried after confessing to their crimes."
VOA's Kurdish service contributed to this story.
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