Special Report: Enslaved in Libya – One woman’s extraordinary escape from Islamic State

By on August 18, 2016

On the evening of June 2, 2015, gunmen blocked a freeway on Libya’s northern coast and stopped a white truck dashing toward Tripoli, the capital. The Men skilled their assault rifles on The Driving Force. Three climbed aboard to search the cargo.

Ruta Fisehaye, a 24-year-old Eritrean, Was mendacity on the bed of the truck’s first trailer. Beside her lay 85 Eritrean men and women, one among whom Was pregnant. A Number Of dozen Egyptians hid In The 2nd trailer. All shared one dream — to reach Europe.

The gunmen ordered the migrants off the truck. They separated Muslims from Christians and, then, males from girls. They asked those who claimed to be Muslims to recite the Shahada, a pledge to worship best Allah. All Of The Egyptians shouted the phrases in unison.

“There’s No god But God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

“Allahu Akbar,” the gunmen called again.

Fisehaye realized then that she Used To Be Within The palms of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Her captors wore robes with beige camouflage print — garments she had no longer considered on other men in Libya. Most of them hid in the back of black ski masks. A black flag waved from one among their pickup vehicles.

“We had been certain that they have been taking us to our deaths,” recalled Fisehaye, a Christian who wears a black-thread necklace to characterize her Orthodox religion. “We cried in despair.”

Her captors had Every Other end in thoughts.

As Islamic State battles to amplify in Libya, It’s worthwhile its warriors through exploiting the great exodus of African migrants bound for Europe.

Because The workforce emerged in Libya in late 2014, some 240,000 migrants and refugees have traversed the struggle-torn united states of america. Over The Past 18 months, Islamic State combatants have abducted at the least 540 refugees in six separate ambushes, consistent with 14 migrants who witnessed the abductions and have considering escaped to Europe.

The warring parties then enslaved, raped, bought or exchanged at the least Sixty Three captive girls, Nine of whom described their ordeal in detail to Reuters. Their tales comprise The First corroborated account of how Islamic State turns refugee ladies into sex slaves the usage of them as human currency to draw and reward fighters in Libya. It Is The related blueprint of abuse it employed on Yazidi girls in Syria and Iraq.

On Account Of its proximity to southern Europe, and its shared borders with six African nations, Libya is Islamic State’s most necessary outpost outdoor Syria and Iraq. It’s territory that the staff is fighting exhausting to shield.

In August, U.S. fighter jets bombed Sirte — the stronghold of Islamic State in Libya — in an try and wrench The Town from the crew’s regulate. The airstrikes have revived a stalled armed forces assault that Libyan brigades launched prior this summer.

Sirte is strategically vital for Islamic State. The City sits on a highway connecting two hubs of Libya’s folks-smuggling exchange — Ajdabiya In The northeast, the place migrants cease to settle charges with smugglers, and fishing ports In The west, where boats go away for Europe a week.

From this bastion, Islamic State has discovered a large number of the right way to benefit from the refugee problem, Regardless Of the group’s announcement that migration is “a deadly main sin” Within The September issue of its journal, “Dabiq.”

The extremist workforce has taxed smugglers in alternate for protected passage and has used well-overwhelmed smuggling routes to usher in new fighters, according to Libyan residents interviewed by phone, a senior U.S. legitimate and a U.N. Safety Council File published in July.

Brigadier Mohamed Gnaidy, an intelligence officer with local forces mustered by way of the nearby town of Misrata, says Islamic State has recruited migrants to join its ranks, providing them cash and Libyan brides.

It has additionally extracted human chattel from the circulation of refugees passing via its territory, in step with the debts of Fisehaye and the other survivors who have been interviewed. Five of six mass kidnappings verified by means of Reuters befell on a 160-km stretch near Sirte in March, June, July, August and September of ultimate year. The sixth came about near Libya’s border with Sudan this January.

This story is in accordance with interviews with Fisehaye, eight different girls enslaved by way of Islamic State, and 5 males kidnapped by means of the staff. Reuters spoke to the refugees in three European nations over 4 months. Two girls agreed to talk on the record, risking the stigma that besets survivors of sexual violence. Reuters Used To Be unable to reach the Islamic State fighters in Libya or independently corroborate certain aspects of The Women’s debts.


Prior To she left Eritrea, Fisehaye (rhymes with Miss-ha-day) felt trapped in her job as a storekeeper for a govt-owned farm. Like most young Eritreans, she Used To Be a conscript Within The united states’s long-time period nationwide service, which lasts well past the 18 months mandated by means of legislation. She may infrequently get by using on her meager wages of $ 36 a month. But she additionally felt she might not give up and possibility angering the state, which is regularly accused of human-rights violations.

Fisehaye, a petite girl whose smile simply takes over her entire face, determined to take a possibility. In January 2015, she walked across the border into Sudan with a cousin and two friends, her coronary heart set on Europe.

In Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, Fisehaye spent four months elevating the $ 1,Four Hundred she wanted to pay a smuggler for a Commute to Libya. She tried and did not find a beneficial job. So, like hundreds of refugees Prior To her, she referred to as on loved ones in a foreign country to pitch in. She talked to up to date émigrés and located an Eritrean smuggler whose clients gave him a glowing assessment.

Earlier Than surroundings off into the wasteland, she heard tales about armed outlaws who rape girls in Libya. She paid a physician for a contraceptive injection that would ultimate for 3 months.

“While You depart Eritrea, There’s No going again. I did what any girl would do,” she stated.

The First leg of her journey went off with no hitch. In Could, her convoy crossed the Sahara and reached Ajdabiya in northeast Libya. Fisehaye believed the worst Was Once behind her. Though No Person counts migrants who die from sickness, starvation and violence Within The barren region, refugee groups say more May Just perish there than drown Within The Mediterranean Sea.

“Nobody stopped us In The Sahara … and the smugglers told us we mustn’t concern about Daesh,” she stated, the use of an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “I by no means anticipated to see an geared up state like theirs in Libya.”

She Was mistaken.

On the evening of the kidnapping, the armed Islamic State opponents ordered Fisehaye and the opposite Christians again onto the truck. The Boys climbed onto the front trailer and The Ladies, 22 in all, onto the again. They drove east, threading the same street they had pushed hours previous. A pickup truck with a mounted laptop gun trailed shut in the back of.

A 1/2 hour later, the truck turned right onto a mud road and the delicate glow of a town’s lights shimmered beforehand. A Number Of male captives had viewed videos of Islamic State beheadings. Realizing the gunmen belonged to the group, The Boys jumped off and bumped into the flat wilderness. Gunfire erupted. Some fell dead, others had been rounded up. A Number Of bought away.

“We notion it would be BETTER to get shot than beheaded,” Hagos Hadgu, one of the most males who jumped off the truck, stated in an interview in Hållsta, Sweden. He wasn’t caught that night time and made it to Europe two months later. “We failed to need to die with our hands and legs sure. Even an animal needs to writhe In The hour of death.”

The opponents deposited the migrants at an deserted hospital perched in a scrubland close to a barren region city called Nawfaliyah. They searched The Ladies for jewellery, lifting their sleeves and necklines with a rod, and hauled them into a small room the place a Nigerian lady Was being saved.

The Next morning, one of the most fighters’ leaders, a person from West Africa, paid The Ladies a discuss with. He introduced a younger boy, certainly one of at least seven Eritrean kids Islamic State had kidnapped in March, to serve as his translator.

“Do You Know who We’re?” The Person asked.

The Ladies had been silent.

“We Are al-dawla al-Islamiyyah,” The Person defined, the usage of the Arabic for Islamic State.

He reminded The Ladies that Islamic State Was Once the team that had slain 30 Eritrean and Ethiopian Christians again in April, filmed the massacre, and posted the video online. The caliphate would spare their lives as a result of they had been women, he assured them, But provided that they transformed to Islam.

“Or we will let you rot here,” he warned.

Fisehaye found conversion an unholy thought. Together With the opposite girls, she fired a volley of questions on the man: Can We name our families and tell them where We’re? Can they pay you a ransom for our freedom? Can You inform us what you did to our brothers? Our husbands?

The Man offered few answers and no solace.

Three weeks later, In The first week of Ramadan in June, fighter jets bombed the deserted clinic compound and some of the structures collapsed. It’s difficult to determine who Was Once in the back of the assault. Both the U.S. armed forces and western Libyan groups have claimed raids on neighborhood cities around that time.

In The ensuing chaos, Fisehaye and the other women sprinted prior the debris and ran barefoot into the desert. The New floor seared their ft. The captive men, who had been held in the same compound all along, ran ahead.

Earlier Than long, the fleeing captives made out the silhouettes of a pickup truck and males with assault rifles in advance of them. The armed men waved for the migrants to forestall then opened fireplace. The Ladies stopped. Many Of The migrant males escaped, But eleven had been rounded up and flogged. Their whereabouts are unknown.

The airstrikes persevered during the week. Eventually, Islamic State warring parties moved The Ladies to the deserted quarters of a Turkish building company in Nawfaliyah, two hours away.

The makeshift jail housed graders and dozers from highway-work projects of the mid-2000s, their metal our bodies rusting below the extraordinary heat. Itinerant workers had scribbled their names and nations on the compound’s partitions. Fisehaye and the other girls stayed in a small room where the drywall sweated when temperatures rose. A Korean family — a pediatrician, his wife and her brother — had been jailed in Another room.

It simplest took per week for Fisehaye and the opposite ladies to attempt Any Other breakout. Nine escaped, However now not Fisehaye. Instead, she Used To Be introduced back to the makeshift jail and whipped for days. The Korean doctor tended to her wounds.

A Number Of weeks later, in early August, 21 different Eritrean women joined Fisehaye’s group. They too had been kidnapped along a stretch of highway in primary Libya. One lady came with her three kids, aged Five, seven and eleven.


During the summer season, Islamic State consolidated its grasp in important Libya. In Sirte, Islamic State combatants beaten a Salafist rebellion by means of executing dissenters and putting their bodies from lampposts. In Nawfaliyah, they paraded decapitated heads to silence dissent.

Then, in September, the crew’s emir in Libya, Abul-Mughirah Al-Qahtani (extra regularly often called Abu Nabil), marketed his domain’s “nice need of every Muslim who can come.” He summoned warring parties, doctors, legal specialists and administrators who could assist him construct a functioning state. He levied hefty taxes on companies and confiscated enemy property, just as his group had executed in Syria and Iraq.

The ranks of Islamic State warring parties swelled. At its top, the crew may have had 6,000 warring parties in Libya, according to the U.S. Army’s estimates, even supposing the Pentagon extensively reduce that estimate this month to a thousand opponents in Sirte.

The Only males, most of whom flocked from different elements of Africa, needed companions, and Islamic State enlisted older ladies in Sirte to lend a hand. The Women, known as ‘crows’ because they dressed in black, visited townspeople’s properties and registered single girls older than 15 as possible brides, says Brigadier Gnaidy of the Misrata forces.

Because The crew’s ambitions grew that summer time, so did its want for ladies. Islamic State’s take on sharia allows males to take sex slaves. The kidnapped women, unprotected and a long way from residence, was easy goals. In mid-August, more than two months after Fisehaye Was Once kidnapped, Islamic State combatants moved the 36 girls of their custody to Harawa, a small town they managed some Seventy Five kilometers (46 miles) from Sirte.

As Fisehaye and the seven other ladies Reuters interviewed describe it, existence in Harawa Used To Be nearly quotidian in the beginning.

There Have Been no air strikes, beatings or threats of sexual violence. The captives — the Eritreans kidnapped in June and August, together with Fisehaye, two Nigerians, and the Korean couple and their relative — lived in a big compound by way of the city’s dam. In the following couple of weeks, they were joined by means of 10 Filipino medical employees kidnapped from a health facility in Sirte, a Bangladeshi lecturer taken from a Sirte university, a pregnant Ghanaian captured in Sirte, and an Eritrean lady captured along with her 4-12 months-outdated son on the freeway to Tripoli.

It Used To Be right here that Fisehaye bonded with Simret Kidane, a 29 year-previous who left her three children together with her oldsters in Eritrea to are looking for a greater lifestyles in Europe. She Was Once among the many girls kidnapped in August.

Kidane befriended one of the most guards, Hafeezo, a Tunisian mechanic grew to become jihadist in his early 30s. Hafeezo helped The Women navigate their new existence in captivity. He introduced them groceries and relayed their calls for to his superiors in Sirte. He comforted them after they cried. He recommended them to forget their earlier lives and include Islam. That means, he promised, they could also be freed to discover a husband among the many militants. They may even be allowed to name dwelling.

The Ladies asked for non secular classes, and Hafeezo introduced them a copy of the Koran translated into their first language, Tigrinya. He also introduced a small Dell laptop and a flash power on which he had uploaded spiritual texts and lessons on the lives of fallen jihadists.

Fisehaye succumbed first. In September, after three months of captivity, she converted to Islam and took on a Muslim identify, Rima. Her conversion had a domino effect across the compound; Kidane and the others adopted go well with a month later.

“I might see no opposite direction out,” Fisehaye mentioned. “Islam Used To Be yet another step to my freedom. They told us we might have some rights as Muslims.”

After their conversion, Hafeezo brought them black abayas and niqabs, free clothes some Muslim women wear to cover themselves. He saved his distance and refused to make eye contact. As An Alternative, he supervised their piety from afar.

Another Shield, an older Sudanese fighter, taught them to hope. He recited verses from the Koran and made The Women write down and repeat his phrases. When the Protect moved to a new job in Sirte, Hafeezo introduced a flat-display TELEVISION and performed them videos of spiritual lessons and suicide missions. As promised, Hafeezo allowed The Women to call their families.

In December, ordinary gunfire punctured the moderately quiet existence in Harawa. Meals became scarce. Hafeezo Was Once incessantly known as to the frontline and disappeared for days. In The Future, he took Kidane apart and told her to prepare for what Was Once to come back. The leadership had modified — Islamic State’s emir in Libya had died in a U.S. airstrike a month prior — and The Women’s fate Together With it.

“You at the moment are [[i]]sabaya,[[/i]]” Hafeezo told Kidane, the use of the archaic term for slave. There Have Been four that you can think of outcomes for her and the opposite women, he explained. Their respective homeowners might make them their sex slaves, supply them away as presents, promote them to different militias, or set them free.

“Don’t Worry about what is going to happen to you Within The arms of men,” Kidane says Hafeezo informed her. “Concern yourself most effective with the place you stand with Allah.”

Kidane didn’t share this detail with Fisehaye or the opposite women, hoping to save lots of them from despair.

Later, one in every of Hafeezo’s superiors got here to the compound to take a census. He wrote The Women’s names and ages on a ledger. He asked them to elevate their veils and examined their faces. He lower back per week later and took two of the youngest ladies, aged 15 and 18, with him. On December 17, he sent for Kidane. That day, he gave her to a Libyan member of an Islamic State brigade in Sirte. Despite her repeated pleas, her new proprietor refused to reunite her with Fisehaye.

Kidane and the teenage ladies escaped and are actually looking for asylum in Germany.


In late January, a stomach ulcer restrained Fisehaye to her bed. Stress made issues worse. Arriving From a sanatorium consult with one afternoon, she witnessed a child, no older than 9, shoot a person In The town square.

Quickly after, she and the remainder female captives moved to a warehouse in Sirte the place Islamic State saved appliances, gasoline and slaves. A Group of 15 Eritrean girls, who had been kidnapped in July, and three Ethiopian women kidnapped in January joined them that week.

The warehouse changed into, to The Women, a last frontier of defiance. As new Muslims, they argued for HIGHER healthcare and the abolition of their slavery. They absorbed beatings in response.

Resistance proved futile. An Eritrean fighter called Mohamed, who had often dropped with the aid of to survey The Women, bought Fisehaye in February. He never stated how so much he paid for her. However he appeared gentle at first, asking after her waning health and her previous life in Eritrea.

“I Was perplexed. I Believed he Used To Be going to lend a hand me. Perhaps he had infiltrated Daesh. Perhaps he wasn’t really considered one of them. I began harboring hope,” Fisehaye stated.

Instead, he raped her, time and again, for weeks.

“No One ever showed us which part of the Koran says they may turn us into slaves,” Fisehaye said. “They wished to break us…so much evil of their hearts.”

She plotted her ESCAPE But might no longer have the ability out.

Then her owner lent her to Every Other man, a Senegalese fighter. Identified by the nom de guerre Abu Hamza, the Senegalese had introduced his spouse and three youngsters to the Libyan frontline. Fisehaye Was to work, unpaid, in Abu Hamza’s kitchen.

The work Used To Be busy However bearable, except one evening in mid-February when Abu Hamza introduced an Eritrean girl from the warehouse. He raped the girl all evening.

“She Was Once screaming. Screaming. It tore my heart,” Fisehaye recalled. “His wife stood via the door and cried.”

The Subsequent morning, Fisehaye convinced the battered girl to run away along with her. They left The City behind and bumped into the desolate tract. Nobody stopped to help them and so they have been caught through religious police on patrol out of doors The Town.

The police returned Both ladies to captivity. The battered Eritrean woman went again to Abu Hamza. Mohamed took Fisehaye to a three-story building in Sirte that he shared with two other combatants.

Fisehaye moved in with a 22-year-outdated Eritrean girl and her 4-12 months-old son, Both of whom belonged to a Tunisian commander named Saleh. Every Other 23-12 months-old Eritrean lived down the corridor together with her 2-yr-old son and a daughter to whom she gave delivery whereas in Islamic State custody. That lady and her kids belonged to a Nigerian fighter who known as himself al-Baghdadi.

Fisehaye’s roommates said The Boys raped them on multiple occasions. They instructed their tales on condition of anonymity.

“There Was Once No Person there to assist me. So I saved quiet and took the abuse,” the Eritrean mom of two later said. “I Ended resisting. He did as he happy with me.”


In April of this 12 months, Libya’s nascent unity executive stationed itself in a naval base in Tripoli. One By One, rival factions — the Petroleum Amenities Guard In The east and brigades from cities In The west — plotted to assault Islamic State from opposite flanks.

In Sirte, meanwhile, Fisehaye and her roommates discovered that one in every of them, the mum of two, would Soon be offered to Some Other man.

The revelation pushed them to plot an BREAK OUT. They pretended to name their family But talked, Instead, to Eritrean smugglers in Tripoli. They studied their captors’ schedules. They surveyed their environment every time the Tunisian commander Saleh, in a merciless prank, left the house keys along with his slave However took her son with him.

Ultimately, on the early morning of April 14, The Women grabbed 60 Libyan dinars, about $ 40, from Saleh’s bag and broke out of the home through a backdoor. However Sirte regarded ominously abandoned In The early morning and, fearing they would be caught, The Women back to the home.

They ventured out again, hours later, when The City got here to life. They walked for hours Before a cab stopped for them. Fisehaye negotiated with The Motive Force in halting Arabic. She advised him they were maids who had been swindled by using an supplier. She gave him a host for an Eritrean smuggler in Tripoli.

The Driver negotiated with the smuggler over the cellphone. He agreed to drive them for 750 dinars ($ 540), to be lined with the aid of the smuggler once The Women arrived in Bani Walid, Five hours away.

After All, it took The Women 12 hours to get to Bani Walid. As promised, the Eritrean smuggler paid for their BREAK OUT and took them to a holding cell. There, they shucked off their niqabs and cried with pleasure. They prayed for the dozens that they had left in the back of.

Fisehaye borrowed the smuggler’s telephone and called her father in Eritrea. Quickly, phrase of her GET AWAY unfold amongst her pals and loved ones. They settled her debt and paid the smuggler Some Other $ 2,000 to get her on a boat to Europe.

In Could, right through a month when 1,133 refugees drowned at sea, Fisehaye crossed the Mediterranean. Her 10 months of captivity had come to an end.

She traversed a route trod with the aid of many refugees, throughout Italy and Austria, and reached Germany a month after her GET AWAY. She is now searching for asylum there.

(Gebrekidan mentioned from Ulm and Hanover, Germany; Catania and Rome, Italy; and Hållsta, Fur and Vetlanda, Sweden; Extra reporting with the aid of Patrick Markey and Aidan Lewis in Sirte, Libya; Ali Al-Shouky in Marsa Matrouh, Egypt; and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Edited through Alessandra Galloni)

Reuters: High Information

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