Lost phone brings a female Islamic State returnee to trial for crimes against humanity
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- Denis Cuspert Cuspert ended his rap career in 2010, converted to Islam and...[+]
- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Almost six years have passed since the genocide against the Yazidis, an ethno-religious minority group in Northern Iraq, and one of the first trials against a female ISIS returnee accused of crimes against humanity recently commenced in Hamburg.
While some European countries, such as France, have given up on their nationals who joined the so-called Islamic State by letting them face the death penalty in Iraq, Germany is standing by their citizens and taking steps to prosecute them domestically.
As the Hamburg judges move forward with the case against Omaima A., they will have to determine whether she is guilty of charges including keeping a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as a slave.
On May 4, the trial against the 35-year-old German and Tunisian citizen, Omaima A., began in the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandsgericht) in Hamburg. She is facing multiple charges related to her participation in ISIS.
In January 2015, Omaima traveled from Germany via Turkey to Syria with her three children. Her apparent aim was to join her then-husband, an ISIS fighter, in Raqqa under the rule of the would-be Islamic State Caliphate. After arriving in Raqqa she was initially housed in an ISIS women’s shelter before her husband, Nadar, arranged housing for them together.
From that point onward, Omaima brought up their three children in accordance with ISIS ideology and participated in ISIS activities. Her household also included an enslaved 13-year-old Yazidi girl, as allowed by ISIS ideology. While she did not join Nadar on the battlefield, Omaima still possessed a Kalashnikov AK 47 assault rifle.
Nadar was killed in an air strike on Kobane only a few months after Omaima and the children arrived in Syria. Following this, she received a condolence payment of $1,000 and a further $310 for child support from ISIS. Omaima then married another ISIS fighter, Denis Cuspert, who was a German national and high-profile ISIS propagandist.
Following a series of disputes with her new husband, and desiring to give birth to her fourth child back in Germany, Omaima left ISIS territory at the beginning of September 2016 and returned to her previous life in Hamburg. She was working as an event planner and translator when she was arrested in 2019.
It is unclear whether Omaima lost her phone in Syria or deliberately left it behind. Regardless, a Lebanese reporter got hold of her phone — complete with 36 GB of data, pictures, and videos — and drew attention to the case, which prompted official investigation. Phone data show her children playing with guns and grenades, Omaima using a Kalashnikov AK 47, and even celebrating Osama bin Laden’s birthday over a cake depicting his picture and the two U.S. towers. Omaima was arrested on September 9, 2019, and has been in custody ever since.
Given that her phone holds so much data it could be a mine of evidence against other ISIS returnees and defectors.
Omaima’s case is particularly significant because she is one of the first female ISIS returnees to face charges of crimes against humanity in Germany, or elsewhere for that matter. In particular, she has been indicted for enslaving a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as a crime against humanity under the German Code of Crimes Against International Law (CCAIL) (section 7(1)(3)).
She is also facing an interesting mix of other charges, including violating the War Weapons Control Act for possessing an illegal weapon (section 22a(1)(6)). Under the German Criminal Code, she is accused of: joining a foreign terrorist organization (sections 129a(1)(1), 129b(1) sentences 1 and 2); violating the duty of care she owes to her children (section 171); human trafficking of a minor under the age of 14 for the purpose of labor exploitation (sections 232(3)(1), 232(3)(2), 233(1)(1), 233(3)); and depriving a person of liberty (section 239(1)).
Omaima’s case is one of the universal jurisdiction prosecutions currently underway in Germany. (Just Security has discussed the German universal jurisdiction cases in other articles.) Here, the CCAIL provides a framework for exercising universal jurisdiction, expressing the harm to the international community caused by such crimes and requiring no nexus to Germany.
Questions of her nationality, her physical presence in Germany, where the alleged crimes took place, who they affected, and so on, accordingly are important only for prosecutorial discretion. At the same time, Germany has jurisdiction over her other alleged crimes, which took place in Syria and do require a connection to Germany to be tried there, because she is a German citizen.
Although Omaima’s charges mark a benchmark success for international justice, the auditorium of the main hearing room allowed only six places to protect against infection risks of COVID-19 while the judges stood behind proxy glass during the hearing.
Source: Just Security