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German woman on trial after joining IS as a teen

January 25, 2022

A German woman who went to Syria to join the extremist IS group as a 15-year-old is in the dock in the eastern city of Halle. She and her jihadi husband are suspected of having enslaved a Yazidi woman.

A view of the court house in Halle, Germany
Leonora M.'s secretive move to join IS in Syria has gripped Germany and raised questions about what could have motivated such a stepImage: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

A German woman accused of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity while a member of the extremist "Islamic State" (IS) group in Syria went on trial behind closed doors in the eastern city of Halle on Tuesday.

Leonora M., who went to Syria to join the group as a 15-year-old, also faces charges of being a member of a terrorist organization and having committed violations of weapons laws.

Prosecutors say M., now 22, was involved in human trafficking in Syria after her IS husband "bought" and then "sold" a 33-year-old Yazidi woman. The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking group originally from northern Iraq who were particularly targeted in IS atrocities.

The trial is scheduled to last until at least mid-May.

High-profile case

The story of how Leonora M., a teenage girl from a small German town, became radicalized to the point of joining a militant terrorist organization has gripped Germany and raised questions about what could have motivated such a step.

She ran away from her home in Sangershausen in Saxony-Anhalt to Syria in March 2015, where she became the third wife of another German national in the then de facto "capital" of the group, Raqqa.

Previously, she had been visiting a mosque in the nearby city of Frankfurt, apparently without her parents' knowledge. The mosque was under observation by Germany's domestic intelligence service as a possible hub of Islamic radicalization.

After she went to Syria, her father, a baker, agreed to be followed for four years by a team of reporters from public broadcaster NDR, keeping her case in the public spotlight. During this time, he exchanged thousands of text messages with his daughter that he made public.

As IS was gradually driven out of areas it controlled, M. finally ended up as a detainee in a Kurdish-controlled camp in northern Syria. In December 2020, she was repatriated in one of four operations bringing 54 people, most of them children, back to Germany. She had given birth to two children while in Syria.

She was arrested upon her arrival at Frankfurt airport but later released.

There are an estimated 61 German-nationals still in camps in northern Syria, as well as around 30 people with a link to Germany, according to official figures.

tj/rs (dpa, AFP)