In mid February as many as 300 Syrian Christians were abducted by ISIS militants during a fight for power along the Khabur River in Hassakeh province. This incident followed the simultaneous beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians who were abducted earlier in the month.
According to the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria, the hostages have been moved to Shaddadeh, south of Hassakeh. However, the condition and exact location of these hostages is still unknown. Some believe they may be used as human shields to protect from coalition airstrikes.
Younan Talia, a high ranking official with the Assyrian Democratic Organization, told the Associated Press that 700 families fled to Hasaskeh, and another 200 fled to Qamishli after the raid of 33 villages when the Syrian hostages were taken. One man who refused to leave was set on fire along with his house.
The majority of citizens from free countries worldwide can easily recognize the terror and unspeakable horror brought upon innocent people by ISIS, leading many to ask, “What makes someone who lives in freedom say, ‘That’s what I want’ and then turn their life upside down to live in the middle of the chaos?”
Competent social media campaigns lead by ISIS have reached young radicals with statements like, “Troubled soul, come to the caliphate. You will live a life of glory. These are the apocalyptic end times. You will find a life of meaning here… If you can’t come, kill somebody where you are.”
Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Virginia told an ABC News correspondent how savvy ISIS is on the internet, remarking, “They see the traffic, who’s coming to watch…. They catch the young person when he shows curiosity.”
Adding to the previous lure, Magid informed ABC News that ISIS offers their potential recruits a pity story. “The Muslim world is being humiliated. Look at the suffering.” Then they attempt to justify the unexplainable, “Come and we’ll give you a sense of purpose. We’ll make you a great hero.”
Attempts have been made by American officials to counter ISIS social media. Assistant Director Michael Steinbach, head of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division, informed lawmakers that the FBI and other U.S. agencies have come up with a counter narrative, attempting to combat ISIS messaging. However Steinbach admitted, “The sheer volume of ISIS presence online, particularly through social media, eclipses our effort.”
Help is needed to effectively ward off the beguiling messages from ISIS, declared Diego Rodriguiz, FBI Assistant Director-in-charge. “We rely on help from the community, the public and religious leaders to be mindful of those who could be radicalized. We cannot do this alone.”
Imam Mohamed Magid, is one such religious leader located in Virginia. “I have a responsibility to save kids here as much as I can…”
His work is centered around preventative measures like civic involvement and sports clubs. He has also started a workshop for parents about the importance of promoting Internet safety. “We need the parents to be savvy and understand their place in the virtual space.”
Magid continued to explain that the best defense is for parents and families to have complete awareness about their children and who their friends are – to include friends in the virtual community. When ISIS is able to contact a potential recruit, Magid said they attempt to isolate the person from his family with messages like, “Your parents are not good Muslims. Don’t listen to them,” or “Your local Imam is not a good man.”
Fortunately Magid’s work has been able to reach a youth within his community who had already been contacted by ISIS. He told how this young man (no name was given) came to realize that the message from ISIS was not what the prophet Mohammad taught.
Now, that youth resents being contacted by ISIS and wants to see them defeated. Magid is confident that he will be able to use his experience to help deradicalize and change the minds of other young people at risk.
While some who live under the Caliphate do so because they believe in the cause, others end up there as a result of kidnappings and raids. Women and children are at particular risk of becoming slaves or being sold to ISIS soldiers for sex.
Chemen Rasheed is an aid worker with a German-funded non-governmental organization (NGO) called Wadi. Rasheed finds young women who have escaped ISIS’s grip and helps them as they strive to overcome their trauma and return to normal lives.
When NBC News released this story in early February, Rasheed was helping two young women, a nineteen-year-old survivor named Farida, and a twelve-year-old named Hweida. “When they first arrived, they were collapsed, totally. Psychologically, health-wise – everything,” Rasheed recounts. “Step by step, we are reintegrating them into society.”
NBC was told by Wadi officials that more than 650 girls and women have made it to safety in northern Iraq. Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, Wadi’s director and co-founder, believes many more will be coming. “Soon there will be thousands, and the community is not prepared for that.”
Rasheed is leading an effort to help Wadi launch a day care center for the Yazidi women that will deliver medical care, psychological counseling, and educational aid. It is expected to open as soon as April of this year.
Many of the women now being helped by Wadi have only the clothes they were wearing when they were abducted last August. This means they are unprepared for the cold winter. Rasheed has been working with Basima, a second Wadi staffer, to distribute care packages of food and warm clothes. They are assisting an organization called ALIND (funded by private donations from Germany and the US).
Basima, a Yazidi woman who was a former victim of ISIS enslavement now works alongside the same woman who helped her. NBC said that Basima credits Rasheed “with offering the Yazidis a way to help themselves.”
Currently the UN is trying to acquire money to fund a warm clothing drive to help thousands of displaced Yazidis make it through the winter months. To learn more about Wadi, visit their website at http://en.wadi-online.de/