Small Wars Journal

ISIS and Their Use of Slavery

ISIS and Their Use of Slavery by Nadia Al-Dayel and Andrew Mumford - International Centre for Counter-Terrorism - The Hague

2019 marks (sic – marked) the fifth year of the Sinjar massacre that was performed by the terrorist organisation known as the “Islamic State” (Daesh). As each year passes, the issue may feel further removed for people not directly affected. Yet—for those awaiting family members to return—it marks yet another year in which the perpetrators of this crime against humanity are not brought to justice. The numbers of the Sinjar attack are shocking. More than 6,000 Yazidis—mostly children and women—were kidnapped in early August 2014. Hundreds of men were executed upon capture. Half of those kidnapped are reportedly still missing, suspected of being further entrenched in human trafficking operations or killed.

While kidnapping, slavery, and sexual violence are not uncommon features in conflicts, the scale and structural elements of the Islamic State’s slavery economy is new. The breadth at which slavery and sexual violence spread across the occupied territory in Iraq and Syria for years is staggering, as well as the depth in which these crimes permeated into the socio-economic culture of the organisation and even the families in the Islamic State—including foreign fighters.

Although the Islamic State is not the only modern terrorist group to utilise slavery (another recent example being the kidnapping and pressing into sexual slavery of a group of Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014), we argue that the nexus which occurs between slavery and the Islamic State is significant to an extent never before seen. We need to understand this crime as an emerging tactic that has the dangerous capacity to be replicated in the re-emergence of the Islamic State and other groups. There is a great need to assess how this crime supports the terrorist actor in several aspects—from financially bolstering operations to ensuring a new generation of fighters and displaying control over the populace. With this understanding, we are better prepared for incorporating anti-slavery approaches into counterterrorism and conflict management—giving us a chance to meet the threat from future organisations that employ slavery and gender-based sexual violence as part of their territorial acquisition…

Read on.