Liberator of over 200 captives talks to Aleteia about how it was done
You can get Aleteia inspiration and news in your inbox. Our specially curated newsletter is sent each morning. The best part? It's free.
Rome/Aleteia (Aleteia.org/ar) – In this exclusive interview, Aleteia asks Rabir Sinjari about the rescue of young girls held captive by ISIS in Iraq.
Who rescued these girls?
The people who helped with the rescue are ‘Az-al-Din Sinjari and Mahmud Mardin, both officials of the SIFO, Organization for Growth and Development. The president of this organization is Dalir Sinjari. They have worked since ISIS took over Sinjari to free more than 200 captives from ISIS from various areas inside and outside of Iraq.
How did you pay for the captives?
We do not buy the captives. We work with people on the ground, who at great risk of their own lives, have helped save those who have been kidnapped and are being held.
How is this done?
The operation took a significant amount of planning and continuous communication between with our contacts living in areas under ISIS’ control.
How much did it cost?
We rely upon ourselves for the money to pay those cooperating with us.. Some of the money is used to buy work papers, identification cards and other documents for those who had been abducted. Where it asks for their religion, we put Muslim. Then we buy them black Islamic veils and black cloaks, as well as Arab attire like head coverings for the men. Then we hide those things in safe places like occupied houses, farms or abandoned houses.. In addition to that, there are transportation expenses — for a car — and funds for cell phones and internet. In short, this is all we pay to those cooperating with us. We have not paid one penny to ISIS.
Aren’t you afraid?
We try to be cautious, but humanitarian work demands sacrifice and selflessness. My motto in life is, “Those who aspire towards death will be endowed with life.” I began my work since the first moment that Sinjar was occupied by ISIS fighters by rescuing 39 people, among whom were Yazidi children, women and men. All of them were injured when their truck was shot at by ISIS and collapsed. All of them sustained injuries including fractures. So we rescued them and treated them with primitive methods. We placed woolen bandages on their injuries. We also put black tea on their injuries to stop bleeding.
We have learned that a member of your family was badly injured at that time. What happened?
At that time my sister contacted me in order to go to her in order to rescue her son Dalir, who had been injured. He had been working with the Kurdish Asayish (Kurdish security). He was injured during a fight with ISIS in the battle to control Sinjar. My brother Farhad was also injured. Then I faced a most difficult choice. Do I rescue the 39 injured Yazidi, all of whom needed me, or go with my heart and leave them and go save my nephew Dilar and Farhad? It was the most difficult decision of my life. I stayed and rescued the Yazidis and left my nephew and brother to take care of themselves. I still don’t know what happened to them. We did this because of what the math told us: the number 39 is larger than the number 2 and we know without a doubt that humanity takes precedence over all else.
To date, how many people have you liberated?
We have liberated 186 Yazidi men, women and children. We also liberated an additional 47 Muslims. I would like to reiterate that we continue to do our work without obtaining any funding from any Iraqi government entity, whether from the federal government in Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government or from local or foreign human rights groups. All of our work is documented by audio and video and in dozens of Iraqi and foreign satellite channels as well as Iraqi and foreign magazines and newspapers.
What condition are these girls in when you find them?
There are a number of girls who are suffering from very serious physical and mental health challenges.
If the girls were with ISIS how are you able to get them without money?
With regards to liberating the girls, we were in communication with them and knew where to find them and the people in charge of them. In other words, we contact some of the people and give them an address and cell number for the girl. This person contacts the girl and lets her know when she will be smuggled out. This all occurs without the knowledge of the person with whom she is living.
We do not pay any money to ISIS. However, there are other expenses for the people who smuggle the girls out. We give them whatever they ask for from us. They are also provided with a rental car.
You told us that you communicate with the girls by cell phone. How do you do that? Does ISIS allow the girls to carry cell phones? Where are the girls?
The girls are with ISIS families. ISIS women take the girls to their houses as captives. As for how we communicate with them, many of the girls are hiding cell phones without ISIS knowing about it and contact us or their families when they find a chance to do so.
Translated from the Arabic by Donald Puhlman.