BERLIN – An Iraqi man went on trial in Frankfurt on Friday for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, on allegations that as an Islamic State member he was part of an effort to exterminate the Yazidi religious minority, and killed a five-year-old girl he purchased as a slave by chaining her in the hot sun to die of thirst.
Taha Al-J., 27, whose full last name wasn’t given in line with German privacy laws, faces a possible life in prison if convicted of the charges, and others including murder for the death of the Yazidi girl and membership in a terrorist organization.
No pleas are entered in the German system and Al-J. declined to give any opening comment to the panel of judges hearing the case other than to confirm his identity as the trial opened, according to the court.
Al-J.’s wife, a German convert to Islam identified only as 28-year-old Jennifer W., has been on trial separately in Munich since last April on charges of murder, war crimes and membership in a terrorist organization.
Al-J. was still at large when his wife went on trial, but was arrested a month later in Greece and extradited to Germany in October.
According to the indictment, he was an active member of the Islamic State group from 2013 to 2019 in Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
In 2015, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter as slaves at an IS base in Syria, prosecutors allege. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants in northern Iraq at the beginning of August, 2014, and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
“Taha Al-J. intended, according to the charges, to exterminate the religious minority of the Yazidis by his acquisition of the two Yazidi females, and to have personal benefits from their services in his household,” the Frankfurt state court said as the trial opened.
The United Nations has called the IS assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community "had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by IS, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam - and often executed in any case - and women and girls were sold into slavery.
After purchasing the woman and her daughter, Al-J. took the two to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Near the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment, according to the indictment. Prosecutors in the case against Al-J.’s wife said the punishment was carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
The charges against Jennifer W. are based partially on the allegation that she did nothing to help the girl.
The Yazidi girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at W.’s trial and is also expected to appear as a witness at the trial of Al-J., according to the court.
W. , who quit school after completing eighth grade, grew up in Lower Saxony as a Protestant but converted to Islam in 2013.
She’s alleged to have made her way to Iraq through Turkey and Syria in 2014 to join the IS. In 2015, as a member of the extremist group’s “morality police,” she patrolled parks in Fallujah and Mosul, armed with an assault rifle and a pistol as well as an explosive vest and looking for women who did not conform with its strict codes of behavior and dress, prosecutors said.
She taken into custody when trying to renew her identity papers at the German embassy in Ankara in 2016, and deported back to Germany.
The trial against her husband is scheduled to resume April 27.