Farida Khalaf was captured and enslaved by ISIS terrorists in 2014. Subjected to horrific treatment, she and five other women seized their opportunity and escaped. Author Andrea Hoffmann tells us about why she needed to share Farida’s story.
Farida is a very strong girl. She never gives up even when confronted with the worst circumstances imaginable. And those circumstances are exactly what Farida was put through when she was kidnapped by ISIS terrorists. Beatings, rapes, witnessing women being taken to market and sold like cattle.
But Farida's strength got her through as she realised that the more resistant she became the harder it was for her captors to continue with their atrocities. So she fought back and bit and kicked and accused her captors of going against Islam. It was sort of natural for her to lead the other girls and spur them on to escape.
She is also very bright and is a maths genius, which is how she could work out all the details of their rescue plan. Of course, it wasn't easy. She had to try more than once—but in the end she was able to lead five other girls out of the camp in the middle of the night.
They ran with bare feet through the ISIS-camp and right into the Syrian desert.
It all started when their Yazidi community was invaded and taken over by ISIS fighters. Men and boys were murdered, the women held captive. The whole Yazidi community is still traumatised, but the women and girls that were taken have an even tougher time reintegrating back into their families and society.
Their suffering does not end when they are released. Because of their education, which includes a very strict moral codex, they feel ashamed and guilty about what has happened to them.
It is the same with Farida. Although she realises that she was the victim of those crimes she cannot help but feel ashamed.
I met Farida in an Iraqi refugee camp, where I went as a journalist to cover the catastrophe the Yazidi people had gone through. The situation for women and girls became a tangent for me. It raised my interest beyond mere journalistic coverage. I felt that it was necessary to tell their stories.
Farida is just an example of what has happened to so many of them. To not forget these crimes is the very least we can do for these women, that's why I felt it was my duty to write The Girl Who Beat ISIS and tell Farida’s story.
The extract below is Farida’s introduction to the book The Girl Who Beat ISIS
My father showed me how to stand. ‘Put your left foot a touch further forward and bend your legs slightly.’
He corrected my posture by taking hold of my shoulders from behind and adjusting my torso so I was front on. As a border guard in the Iraqi army he knew how to handle rifles. He placed the gun, an AK-47, in my hands. The Kalashnikov wasn’t as heavy as I’d anticipated.
‘Put your right hand at the back by the trigger,’ he said. ‘Like that.
Now with your left hand you can align the barrel at the front. Aim at the tree trunk over there.’ I got one of the mulberry trees in our garden in my sights. ‘And fire!’
I tentatively fingered the trigger. Nothing happened.
‘Go on,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid, Farida.’
I pulled the metal lever gently until finally it clicked quietly. From behind me Dad laughed.
‘Just like that,’ he said. ‘Well done!’
I looked at him quizzically.
‘I haven’t taken off the safety catch. But we’ll change that right away. This is how you do it.’ He showed me how to release the safety catch on the right-hand side of the receiver. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Of course,’ I said, focused.
‘Are you aiming right?’
‘Go on then.’
A loud report echoed through our garden and the force of the
Kalashnikov had me staggering.
‘Bravo!’ Dad said, grinning beneath his dark moustache.
The two of us walked over to the tree, to examine the results of my first shooting attempt. And, in the event, a small piece of metal was lodged at the very right-hand edge of the trunk. The empty cartridge lay in the dust about a metre away.
‘You’ve got talent,’ my father said. ‘With a little practice you’ll be better than your mother.’
‘Do you think so?’ I asked excitedly. He stroked my head with affection.
‘Yes, you’ve just got to do it a few times, then it’ll be a piece of cake. I’ll put up a target for you in the garden. You’ll see, over time you’ll lose that fear of the bang and you’ll be better at offsetting the kick.’
I nodded eagerly. I was terribly proud that my father was teaching me, at the age of fifteen, how to handle a Kalashnikov. He’d already shown my mother and my brother Delan, who was a couple of years older than me, how to do it years ago. Although not my brother Serhad, who was two years younger. It was a sure sign that he thought I was grown up enough to defend our house and property should it ever come to that.
There were three rifles in a box in my parents’ bedroom. One was Dad’s army service rifle; the others he’d picked up at the bazaar.
‘Women need to know how to use a weapon too,’ he said. ‘When I’ve got enough money I’ll buy another AK-47 so that there’s one for each of us in an emergency.’
Dad didn’t specify what this emergency might be. And I didn’t have the imagination to picture it. Back then it didn’t cross my mind that my father’s circumspection might be linked to the fact that we were Yazidis and not Muslims. I was just thinking of burglars who might try to steal our valuables. I was only fifteen-years-old and the catastrophe awaiting us in the future was completely beyond my imagination.
Andrea Hoffmann is the co-author of The Girl Who Beat Isis by Farida Khalaf, published by Square Peg