ISIS Militant on Trial in Munich for Membership of a Foreign Terrorist Organization and War Crime of Murder of 5-Year-Old Yazidi Child

Tomorrow, 9 April 2019, the trial of Jennifer W, a 27-year-old German citizen, will begin in the Higher Regional Court of Munich. The defendant has been charged with membership of a foreign terrorist organisation (ISIS), murder, murder as a war crime and violations of the German War Weapons Control Act. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

According to the indictment, the defendant left Germany in August 2014 and joined the command structure of ISIS in Iraq shortly thereafter. She is alleged to have been an active member of ISIS’ “morality police” (hisbah), responsible for enforcing ISIS’ strict rules on dress code, public behaviour and alcohol and tobacco consumption. She allegedly patrolled parks and public spaces in Fallujah and Mosul carrying weapons including a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a pistol and an explosive vest and dispensing punishment for violations of ISIS’ “moral code”. In the summer of 2015, the defendant and her husband “purchased” and enslaved a 5-year-old Yazidi girl who was part of a group of prisoners of war. They held the child and her mother as captives at their residence in Fallujah. At that residence, the child was chained outdoors as a punishment and murdered by being left to die in scorching temperatures. 

Amal Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, and German attorneys Natalie von Wistinghausen and Wolfgang Bendler represent the girl’s mother as her counsel in the proceedings. Information provided by their client indicates that the defendant engaged not only in murder as a war crime, but also in crimes against humanity, including murder, human trafficking, torture and deprivation of physical liberty. 

This case is believed to be the first prosecution anywhere in the world for international crimes committed by ISIS militants against Yazidi victims. From August 2014, the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria was targeted by ISIS through an organised campaign of executions, enslavement, sexual violence, and forced recruitment of child soldiers, as well as the forcible displacement of an estimated 400,000 Yazidis from their homeland in Iraq. These crimes have been recognised by the United Nations, the German Federal Court of Justice, and other national and international bodies as amounting to genocide. 

According to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, herself a survivor of enslavement and torture at the hands of ISIS militants: “this case is important for all Yazidi survivors. Every survivor I have met and spoken to is waiting for the same thing – for the perpetrators to be prosecuted for their crimes against Yazidis, including women and children. So this is a very big moment for me, and for the entire Yazidi community”.

According to Haider Elias, President of Yazda, a global Yazidi NGO whose documentation work in Iraq since 2015 was instrumental to this prosecution and the identification of the girl’s mother: “Our continuous commitment to the Yazidi community is finally paying off. This is a big first step of what we hope becomes a groundbreaking trial that will encourage other countries to prosecute their nationals. We would like to thank Germany and our legal team for their hard work. But we also believe more needs to be done to address the suffering of the Yazidis, especially women and children, and we ask that the thousands of ISIS fighters currently in detention also be held to account for their crimes”. 

According to victim’s counsel Amal Clooney: “Yazidi victims of genocide have waited far too long for their day in court. I am grateful to the German prosecutors who I have worked with for their commitment to holding ISIS members accountable for their crimes. And I hope that this will be the first of many trials that will finally bring ISIS to justice in line with international law”.

According to victim’s counsel Natalie von Wistinghausen: “It is an important task to ensure that the rights and the interests of our client are fully respected during the entire proceedings, consistent with all fair trial guarantees. Our client wants justice to be done, as well as the opportunity to give a full account of the suffering she and her daughter lived through”.

According to victim’s counsel Wolfgang Bendler: “The victim's counsel will ensure that, through this trial, the accused will be shown the full extent of the impact of her alleged crimes. We reject any attempt to instrumentalise this case as a politically or religiously motivated trial, as suggested in recent statements by supporters of ISIS, and of the defendant”.

Note to editors:  

Under German law, murder is a crime under the German Criminal Code and murder as a war crime is a crime under the Code of Crimes against International Law.  German law provides that victims of such grave crimes have rights as ‘private accessory prosecutors’ and can participate fully in the proceedings alongside the prosecution and defence. 

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