A German woman who joined Islamic State went on trial Tuesday, April 9 accused of the war crime of letting a five-year-old Yazidi slave girl die of thirst in the sun.
The case against Jennifer W., 27, is believed to be the first anywhere in the world for international crimes committed by ISIS militants against members of the Yazidi minority.
The defendant faces life in jail if found guilty of committing murder and of murder as a war crime, as well membership in a terrorist organization and violations of the German War Weapons Control Act.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, herself a Yazidi survivor of ISIS enslavement and torture, said the Munich trial “is a very big moment for me, and for the entire Yazidi community.”
Prominent London-based human rights lawyer Amal Clooney is part of the team representing the dead Yazidi girl’s mother, although Clooney was not expected to appear in the Munich trial on its opening day.
German prosecutors allege Jennifer W. and her ISIS husband had “purchased” the Yazidi child and her mother, a co-plaintiff in the trial, as household “slaves” whom they held captive while living in then ISIS-occupied Mosul, Iraq, in 2015.
“After the girl fell ill and wet her mattress, the husband of the accused chained her up outside as punishment and let the child die an agonizing death of thirst in the scorching heat,” prosecutors charge.
“The accused allowed her husband to do so and did nothing to save the girl.”
German media said the defendant’s husband, Taha Sabah Noori Al-J., had beaten both the Yazidi mother and child, and that Jennifer W. allegedly also once held a pistol to the woman’s head.
The trial is being held under tight security in a Munich court that deals with state security and terrorism cases, with hearings initially scheduled until September 30.
Jennifer W., who reportedly left school after the eighth grade and converted to Islam in 2013, traveled in mid-2014 from Germany via Turkey and Syria to Iraq where she joined ISIS.
Recruited in mid-2015 to an anti-vice squad of the group’s self-styled hisbah morality police, she patrolled city parks in ISIS-occupied Fallujah and Mosul.
Armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol and an explosives vest, her task was to ensure strict ISIS rules on dress code, public behaviour and bans on alcohol and tobacco consumption.
In January 2016, months after the Yazidi child’s death, Jennifer W. visited the German embassy in Ankara to apply for new identity papers.
When she left the mission, she was arrested by Turkish security services and extradited several days later to Germany.
For lack of actionable evidence against her at the time, she was allowed to return to her home in the German state of Lower Saxony, but quickly sought to return to ISIS territory.
Der Spiegel reported that an FBI informant posed as an accomplice who offered to take Jennifer W. back to the ISIS “caliphate,” chatting with her in a bugged car while they drove through Germany, headed for Turkey.
Jennifer W. allegedly said that the child’s death had been “hard-core even for ISIS” and unjust because only God had the right to use fire as punishment. Her husband had later been beaten as punishment by ISIS, she said.
Police followed close behind her vehicle for several hours and listened to a live audio feed as Jennifer W. spoke and then arrested her at a highway stop.
Clooney, the wife of Hollywood star George Clooney, has been involved in a campaign with Nadia Murad to get ISIS crimes against the Yazidi minority recognized as a “genocide.”
“I hope that this will be the first of many trials that will finally bring ISIS to justice in line with international law,” Clooney said in a statement.
ISIS targeted the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria through an organized campaign of executions, enslavement, sexual violence and forced recruitment of child soldiers, forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands from their homeland in Iraq.