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German Islamist sentenced to 14 years for killing of girl

Ben Knight | Matthias von Hein
August 29, 2023

Former IS member Jennifer W. has had her sentence extended by four years following an appeal by prosecutors. The 32-year-old was found responsible for the death of a Yazidi girl who had been enslaved.

Jennifer W., a dark-haired woman in a pink suit, holds up a black folder to cover her face in court
Jennifer W. has been sentenced to 14 years in prisonImage: Matthias Balk/dpa/picture alliance

The Munich state court on Tuesday imposed a new, extended 14-year prison sentence on former "Islamic State" member Jennifer W. for her role in allowing a young Yazidi girl, named only as Rania, to die of thirst in Iraq in 2015.

Jennifer W., from a small town in the German state of Lower Saxony, had been found guilty of the killing, as well as membership in a terrorist organization and sentenced to 10 years in prison in an initial trial in 2021. But that sentence was deemed too lenient by state prosecutors, who appealed.

In addition, a federal court voided the first conviction because of alleged legal failures in the first trial, which meant the circumstances of the young girl's death had to be reinvestigated. 

Looking for kidnapped Yazidis

The court found that Jennifer W., then aged 23, had traveled to Syria in 2014 to join her husband Taha A.-J., also a member of the so-called "Islamic State" who had bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter as slaves.

The couple then moved to Iraq, where the Yazidi woman and her daughter were forced to work in their household and were frequently abused by both Jennifer W. and her husband. According to the court's findings, the man tied the young girl to the bars of a window outside in the middle of the summer 2015, where she died of thirst.

Jennifer W. was convicted for failing to help the girl. Taha A.-J., an Iraqi national, was sentenced to life in prison by a Frankfurt court in 2021.

First trial worldwide

As part of the new trial, the judges charged the ex-jihadi with enslavement resulting in death and accused her of acting out of contempt for human life. The court had effectively reassessed the severity of the crime.

German-Yazidi journalist Düzen Tekkal, founder of the aid organization HAWAR.help, told DW that all cases of enslavement are serious. "They were co-murderers, co-enslavers. They carried the whole ideology of jihadism in their hearts," she said.

 Düzen Tekkal
Yazidi activist and journalist Düzen Tekkal welcomed the trialImage: L. Chaperon

The trials of Taha A.-J. and Jennifer W., in which the mother of the murdered girl was a co-plaintiff, marks the first time anywhere in the world that an IS member has been put on trial for the group's persecution of the Yazidi people, a Kurdish-speaking minority in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

"This was of utmost importance, in that the impunity of genocide and human rights crimes against the Yazidis was put to an end for the first time anywhere in the world," said Tekkal. She added that the work of German prosecutors and the Munich court had paved the way to the German Bundestag's resolution in January to classify the persecution of the Yazidis by the IS as genocide.

Mass burial of Yazidi victims of Islamic State in Iraq
Many Yazidis have been killed by 'Islamic State' in Syria and IraqImage: Zaid Al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images

The terrorist militia attacked the Yazidi region in northern Iraq at the start of August 2014. Men were executed, and women and children were abducted and enslaved. Tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees still live in refugee camps in the Middle East.

Jennifer W., now 32 and herself the mother of a daughter, showed some remorse in the new trial, bursting into tears in her closing statement.

She also admitted to holding a gun to the head of the girl's mother, telling her to stop crying for her dead child. The ex-jihadi also said she had "behaved wrongly in the previous trial" and that she had been afraid of the punishment.

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

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Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight