A Yazidi boy who escaped an ISIS training camp and
made a daring trek to safety across the desert of northern Iraq told
FoxNews.com in an exclusive interview about his hellish, nine-month
ordeal under the black-clad terrorist army’s brutal grip.
Now safe in a Kurdish-run refugee camp, Ahmed Amin
Koro, 15, fears he will never again see his father again. He wonders how
the tight-knit religious minority can recover from the scars inflicted
by ISIS in the nearly two years since it stormed Mount Sinjar, the
ancestral home of 150,000 Yazidi.
“For a moment, if I feel happy, my neighbors are
not,” Ahmed told FoxNews.com in a Skype interview arranged by Kurdish
authorities. “We cannot be happy. “We think of others who are with ISIS.
It is a difficult life.”
Ahmed was just 13 when ISIS laid siege to Mount
Sinjar in early August of 2014. For days, the Yazidi, an ancient
religious minority wrongly regarded by many in the region as devil
worshippers, remained trapped in the towns that dot the mountainside,
such as Tel Qasab, Tel Banat, Qahtania and Mojamaa Al Jazeera, as the
world watched a humanitarian crisis unfold. Iraqi military choppers
airlifted some to safety, while others formed convoys to flee down the
only road leading off the mountain.
Ahmed’s father had desperately hoisted him and his
little brother into a relative’s vehicle and stayed behind, but moments
later, ISIS fighters manning a checkpoint on the road stopped the car.
”At first they told us, ‘We have no problem with you,
you are all our brothers and our sisters,’” the soft-spoken boy told
FoxNews.com from the Kurdish city of Duhok. “At first they told us they
wouldn’t hurt us.”
While Ahmed and the other children were being whisked
50 miles east to the ISIS-controlled town of Tal Afar, the Islamist
army was moving up the mountain with savage precision, destroying entire
villages and burying countless men and women alive in a horrific scene
that galvanized international disgust. Witnesses would later give grimly
similar accounts of military-age men being summarily executed while
other adults were told to convert to Islam or die.
Yazidi are ethnically Kurds, but follow a pre-Islamic
faith with links to Zoroastrianism. Of the 500,000 Yazidi in Iraq, more
than 200,000 have been displaced or killed since the rise of ISIS,
according to the United Nations.
Ten days after the seige began, Kurdish forces backed
by U.S. air strikes drove the jihadists off the mountain, but not
before the Yazidi community was devastated and scattered. Ahmed and his
brother wound up in an ISIS education camp, where they and as many as
1,500 other Yazidi children were beaten, starved, forced to memorize the
Koran and taught to kill.
“It wasn’t a school, it was like a prison,” Ahmed
said. “We were forced to prayer, we were told we were jihadists and we
were not Yazidi anymore.”
The children were awakened before sunrise for morning
prayers, and fed scraps they washed down with contaminated water that
left them ill, Ahmed said. Yazidi girls were taken away each day to be
sold to ISIS fighters, Ahmed said, recalling one mother’s desperate plea
for mercy on her young daughter.
“The mom cried that her little girl was too young and
she didn’t know anything about marriage or sex, but they didn’t care
and took her anyway,” Ahmed said.
Young women with little brothers told their captors
the boys were their sons in the hope that it would make them less
desirable, he said. If a virginity test conducted by an ISIS doctor
proved them wrong, they were beaten for lying, Ahmed said.
“The girls were covering their faces with dirt,
trying to make themselves less beautiful,” Ahmed said. “But if they were
caught doing that they were beaten. They were all beaten and taken
away. ISIS beat us too.”
After one month, Ahmed and his brother were moved to a
jihadist military training camp closer to Mosul where Koran
memorization was enforced with severe punishment. Boys were trained day
and night in the use of guns, hand-to-hand combat and learned to fight
in close quarters, said Ahmed, who acknowledged witnessing numerous
murders by ISIS’ cruel instructors.
Yazidi boys were told they were being groomed to take
their place on the frontline to fight the Kurds, as well as their own
people, said Ahmed, who knew he and his brother had to escape.
Eight months into his ordeal, the boys got permission
to visit a relative in Tal Afar, he said. Soon after they arrived, ISIS
enforcers there mounted a crackdown, rounding up men and boys in a
monstrous replay of the scene on Mount Sinjar. In the frenzied
confusion, the boys hid under the rubble of a damaged building mosque
until night fell and danger passed, Ahmed said.
In the morning, they began their arduous quest across
some 50 miles of desert to return to their mountain home, Ahmed said.
The boy recounted how he and his brother waited for hours outside an
ISIS base until its occupants went inside a mosque for prayers, then
darted into a building to fill their water bottles.
“We knew we would die without water,” Ahmed said.
“We were so thirsty we drank it all and walked again until we found a
small stream to fill them up again.”
They never made it to Mount Sinjar, but they did find
a Kurdish-controlled village where locals were all-too familiar with
their plight. They called representatives of a Kurdish Regional
Government agency called the Office of Kidnapped Affairs. The boys
waited for the final leg of their deliverance.
“We stayed quiet and still until it was dark, we
couldn’t walk anymore. We were starving,” Ahmed said, his voice a
whisper. “Relatives came in the car to get us. Nobody knew before that
we had been trying to escape.”
Since that day, Ahmed and his brother have been
reunited with their mother and sister in the camp, where the boys
support their family working in a store and attend school in a makeshift
Of an estimated 5,000 Yazidi captured in the ISIS
assault on Mount Sinjar, about a third have escaped, been ransomed or
smuggled to freedom. Perhaps most troubling to this fractured and
misunderstood community is the prospect that some of its sons and
brothers have been brainwashed and turned against their own people.
In Ahmed’s case, eight months of dark indoctrination
has not shaken his sense of right and wrong. Instead of anger, he feels
only sad resignation and a wistful longing for a life that may be gone
“I want to see my Dad again,” he said. “I want to go
back to Sinjar and I want to live peacefully with all my community – all
of us – safe and together again.”