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Kidnapped By ISIS, One Woman Tells How She Saved Her Sisters

In English, the 22-year-old woman's name means life. She's afraid to let us use it for the safety of the hostages that ISIS still holds. She was taken with thousands of other women and children, but she escaped, and now they're searching for her. Her nickname is Dudu.

We meet her and her four younger sisters inside a shipping container that's propped up on cinder blocks and fashioned into a makeshift shelter. It's where her extended family lives now, just outside the northern Kurdish city of Dohuk.

Dudu is part of the Yazidi ethno-religious minority, a group targeted and massacred by the so-called Islamic State.

The date of Aug. 15 is seared in her mind. That's when ISIS terrorized her village of Kocho; they massacred the men and some of the older women and kidnapped the young women to sell into forced marriages. Activists documenting the horrors say ISIS is holding more than 3,000 women and children hostage. Girls and women who are 12 and older are being sold to men in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other places.

Taken

I found courage in protecting my sisters.
Dudu, 22-year-old woman who escaped ISIS

Dudu says the day started with ISIS fighters arriving in more than 15 vehicles.

"'Come on, we're taking you out,'" she says they told her uncle, the leader of the village. "They asked us to leave the village and took us to a school. Then we were separated. The men were taken away and we heard the sound of shooting."

Her father was one of those men. When she heard the gunfire, she asked what was happening. The fighters told them, "Don't worry, we're letting you all go."

But they lied.

"They took us to Mosul, to a three-story house," she says. "We were almost 100 girls."

Every day men would come and purchase women for an unknown fate. Some women were forced to marry multiple men — in essence, systematic rape.

That's when Dudu realized that to survive, she had only herself, her sisters and her wits. She became a fast talker; every time someone tried to take one of her sisters, she'd say she was pregnant, that another sister was blind and another couldn't walk. She told them she was married. "Do you want used goods?" she'd ask.

Dudu says she witnessed horrors, like when her 19-year-old cousin tried to kill herself with broken glass before being beaten and taken away with her 15-year-old sister. Two other girls, just 15, were taken by old men and then returned just days later bloodied, bruised and raped.

Dudu tried to befriend the man who kept watch on all the women and who recorded the so-called marriages. She appealed for mercy.

"We are five sisters, we used to go to school, we have a future in front of us and you took us, you destroyed that," she says she told him, lucky that, unlike many of the other women, she spoke Arabic, not just Kurdish. "Why do you want to do this to us? We didn't do anything to you. Please help us."

For a time, it worked. He hid her and her sisters when the men would come to buy others. She thought it was an act of kindness, but it was an act of treachery. The 60-year-old man wanted her to himself.

He sat her down on the floor and he sat on a couch with an ISIS leader, an aide to the self-declared caliph of the so-called Islamic State.

"Your tongue is long," she says he told her. "Don't talk until I'm finished or I will cut it out."

He told her she had to marry him and her sister would go to the ISIS leader. They'd all live in a nice house together, her younger sisters, the youngest, just 10 years old, could stay with them.

She refused.

"If you don't accept, we will separate you all and you will never see each other again," she says he told her.

There was no other way, she says, so she accepted.

Escape

After she agreed to their offer, Dudu asked if she could first grieve the loss of her family with the Islamic 40-day mourning period. He begrudgingly agreed and moved them into an ostentatious house as promised — a house that ISIS fighters had stolen from a Christian family they displaced.

Dudu laughs as she recalls manipulating her captors to relocate her over and over again. Telling him one house was too big, another too small.

"He told me, 'What's the matter with you, you think you're in Europe?' " she says.

In truth, she was looking for an escape route. Finally, in the last house, there was a balcony and a wooden door she thought she could break down. She slipped the key to the balcony into her pocket without her captors noticing.

In the middle of the night, when the man was gone, she woke her sisters to break out.

One was too afraid, and told her, "I want to stay and die here." But Dudu wouldn't let that happen. She and her sisters pushed through the locked door to the street. They covered their faces, hair and bodies and ran through the streets, listening for cars, watching for gunmen. They found a taxi.

The driver was afraid to take them out of town. He told them he would take them to his house, but that ISIS had a checkpoint next door and would kill them all.

"Please ... take us anywhere safe," she said.

So he took them to a neighborhood where there was little ISIS presence. They knocked on a door after hearing women speaking inside. A Muslim man answered, she begged for help, kissed his feet and he began to cry.

He and his family risked their lives and took the girls in. "Only speak Arabic, no Kurdish, and don't go outside or my neighbors will turn us in," he told her.

For weeks they lived upstairs, hidden until it was safe enough to flee.

After 23 days he gave them fake IDs and sneaked them out of Mosul, Dudu says. He told checkpoints they were his daughters and he was visiting grieving relatives. Once outside the area controlled by ISIS, Dudu met her uncle and fiancée. Finally she was safe.

"I found courage in protecting my sisters," she says. And with pride she pronounces that no man touched them. "I would die first. When I used to watch ISIS on TV I was more afraid, but then I met them and I could see they were nothing."

From the safety of the shipping container in the Kurdish north, Dudu asks about her parents.

"How can we live without them?" she says. "Someone must save them."

Her family hasn't told her that ISIS killed them on Aug. 15, along with hundreds of others.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. began airstrikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, last month in part, because of the group's attack on the Yazidi minority in Iraq. Activists say more than 3,000 Yazidis are still hostages of ISIS, and many of the women are used as sex slaves. NPR's Leila Fadel met one woman who was able to outwit her captors.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In English, the 22-year-old woman's name means life. But she's afraid to let us use that for the safety of the hostages that ISIS still holds. Her nickname is Dudu, and that's what we'll call her too.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: We meet her and her four younger sisters inside a shipping container that's propped up on cinder blocks and fashioned into a makeshift shelter. It's where her extended family lives now, just outside the northern Kurdish city of Duhok.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: She's part of the Yazidi ethno-religious minority. The date of August 15 is seared in her mind, that's when ISIS took her village. And when the extremists were sweeping through the Sinjar area, hundreds of the men from her village, Kocho, were killed and the women kidnapped.

DUDU: (Through translator) They asked us to go out from the village and to go to a school. And there we were separated.

FADEL: The fighters told them don't worry, we're letting you all go, but they lied.

DUDU: (Through translator) At 7:00, they took us to Mosul to a house. We were almost 100 girls. We were put in a house in Mosul with three levels.

FADEL: Every day, men would come and purchase women to be forced into marriages. Some women were forced to marry multiple men - in essence, systematic rape. That's when this young woman from an isolated village realized that to survive, she had only herself, her sisters and her wits. She became a fast talker. Every time someone tried to take one of her sisters, she'd say she was pregnant, that another sister was blind and another couldn't walk. She told them she was married. Do you want used goods, she would ask?

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: She says she witnessed horrors. Her 19-year-old cousin, who tried to kill herself with broken glass before being beaten and taken away with 15-year-old sister, two other girls, just 15, taken by old men and then returned just days later bloody, bruised and raped. Dodo tried to appeal to the man who kept watch on all the women and who'd recorded the so-called marriages.

DUDU: (Through translator) We are five sisters. We used to go to school. We have a future in front of us. And you took us. Why do you want to do this with us? We didn't do nothing for you. Please, help us to go on.

FADEL: For a time, it worked. He hid her and her sisters when the men would come to buy others. She thought it was an act of kindness, but it was an act of treachery.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: The 60-year-old man wanted her to himself. He told her she had to marry him and her sister would go to an ISIS leader. They'd all live in a nice house together. She refused.

DUDU: (Through translator) If you don't accept this condition, we're going to separate you all and you never will see each other.

FADEL: There was no other way, she says, so she accepted. But still thinking on her feet, she asked if she could first grieve the loss of her family with the Islamic 40 day mourning period. He begrudgingly accepted and moved them into an ostentatious house, as promised.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Now she laughs as she recalls manipulating her captors to relocate her over and over again.

DUDU: (Through translator) Said, but what is the matter with you? You keep asking for changing the house.

FADEL: Really, she was looking for an escape route. Finally, in the last house there was a balcony and a wooden door she thought she could break down.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: When the man was gone, she and her sisters pushed through the locked door to the street. They covered their faces, hair and bodies and ran through the streets listening for cars, watching for gunmen. They found a taxi.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: The driver was afraid to take them out of town, but took them to a neighborhood where there was little ISIS presence. They knocked on a door and a Muslim man and his family risked their lives and took the girls in.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Only speak Arabic and don't go outside, or my neighbors will turn us in, he told her. After 23 days he gave them fake IDs and sneaked them out of Mosul to meet her uncle and fiance. They were finally safe.

DUDU: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: She says with pride that she found courage in protecting her sisters, the youngest just 10. And the men never touched them. She made a decision to die before she'd let that happen. She says she was more afraid of ISIS before she met them, but up close she says, they were nothing and she wasn't scared.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Irbil. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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