Shotgun Marriages in ISIS-Controlled Libya

Documents published this week by Al Arabi Al Jadid provide an interesting clue both to the enigmatic attraction of ISIS for young North African men, and to communal rejection of the extremist group. Cheap and easily obtained war ‘brides’ are an advertised benefit for young gunmen who enlist. But to fill the demand for young girls, ISIS religious police must obtain them, at gunpoint, from families who often choose to flee the group’s territory rather than surrender their daughters.

Libya’s complex civil war pits two nominally democratic governments (located in Tripoli and Tobruk) against one another; both are also at war with the extremists who claim loyalty to the ISIS pseudo-state in Iraq and Syria, and which controls a rapidly shrinking territory around the central city of Sirte.

A collection of marriage certificates issued by the ISIS [DAESH] Islamic Court of the city of Sirte has been released to the public by the Government of National Accord’s military operation which is retaking the city. The documents released by Operation Binyan al-Marsous shed new light on how DAESH marriages are concluded.

One document certifies the marriage of a DAESH combatant from Tunisia to a woman identified as Maryam the Nigerien, in exchange for the dowry of one explosive belt. Another ‘marriage certificate’ is for a man identified as Abu Said the Malian, to a woman identified as ‘Fatima the Nigerien,’ against the dowry of an AK-47.

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Picture of DAESH “marriage certificates” in Sirte, made public by Al Bunyan Al Marsous.

The marriage certificates issued by DAESH’s Islamic Court are all signed by a person identified as the ‘Sultan’s Representative,’ and most bear dates from last year.

Other documents shown to Al-Arabi al-Jadid by local sources reveal details on how the DAESH organization purchased kidnapped women, identifying them (in so-called legal papers) as “sabaya” [enslaved wartime captives]; however comprehensive information on the nationality of the victims or the dates on which they were purchased by DAESH was not available.

One of the documents released by Binyan al-Marsous is a ‘receipt for 3,000 dinars’ [$2,100]issued by the ‘Province of Tripoli’ to one Abu Said the Sudani for “furnishing the Islamic State with three sabaya [enslaved captives].

Among the documents are so-called ‘marriage simplifications’; one such registers the marriage of one ‘Abu Ahmed the Sudani’ to ‘Aya the Sudani’ against a dowry of only 15 dinars [$10].

Al Arabi al Jadid spoke with one Libyan who had fled Sirte for Tripoli a year ago due to DAESH’s marriage policies. Abu Salem told us that DAESH gunmen requested that he marry off his daughters to what they called the “mujahidin,” which sparked his flight from Sirte.

Abu Salem said that “as the organization started tightening its grip on Sirte, local authorities were too busy fighting them to be able to protect us. DAESH gunmen started visiting local families, wearing the badge of the religious police; they told us to show them our family registry booklets.”

When they found the names of young women or girls in the family registries, they told the heads of the families to marry them off to their ‘mujahidin brothers.’ For that reason, many local families fled the city.

Some of the gunmen, Abu Salem added, “were themselves from Sirte, and they married off their own minor daughters to their ‘mujahidin brothers,’ against the will of the rest of the family. This is known and documented, but because of our conservative environment, we can’t reveal the names of these people.”

“I think that making ‘marriage’ easy is one of the reasons the organization is so attractive to all these young men; they are exposed to enormous amounts of propaganda saying that new recruits will be given women slaves of Arab or foreign nationality, and will be allowed to take more than one wife in exchange for very cheap dowries,” Abu Salem said.

In a bitter tone, he said he personally “knew one father who has no idea what has happened to his own daughter, who was married off by force by her DAESH brother to another DAESH gunman in July of 2015. He does know she bore a child from him.”

“We are supposed to feel lucky that up until now, girls with Libyan nationality have not been sold as actual slaves, or raped. But we live in fear of our own sons who have joined the organization and taken on the ideology of DAESH. I know one who brought fellow gunmen to his own house as witnesses, to read aloud the legal marriage notice between one of his own sisters and a DAESH gunman,” Abu Salem said. “Thank God the entire family was able to escape because the man who was to be married to the sister still hadn’t arrived in Sirte, which is the only reason why the girl was not taken by force. Her family ran away in the middle of the night two days later, and they are now staying in Misrata.”

Asked about the rumors that there are actually women participating in the fighting alongside the DAESH gunmen in Sirte, Abu Salem answered that “it is most likely as we see many African women starting religious indoctrination classes for other women in Sirte, and we hear about the wives and daughters of DAESH gunmen who have joined the organization too.”

Abdallah Asharif Translated from Arabic by International Boulevard