Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s widow sentenced to death in Iraq

File photo showing Asma Mohammed, also known as Umm Hudaifa, at a prison in Iraq
Asma Mohammed, also known as Umm Hudaifa, told the BBC she was not involved in IS atrocities [BBC]

The first wife of the late leader of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been sentenced to death by a court in Iraq, the country’s judiciary says.

Karkh Criminal Court convicted the woman of “working with the extremist organisation and detaining Yazidi women”, according to the Supreme Judicial Council.

An interior ministry identified her as Asma Mohammed, also known as Umm Hudaifa.

There was no comment from her lawyer, but in a recent interview with the BBC she denied involvement in IS’s atrocities or its kidnapping and enslavement of Yazidi women.

She was married to Baghdadi while he oversaw the group’s brutal rule over large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria which were home to almost eight million people.

In 2019, months after the group’s military defeat in the region, US forces raided the place where Baghdadi was hiding in north-west Syria with some members of his family. Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest when cornered in a tunnel, killing himself and two children, while two of his four wives were killed in a shootout.

Umm Hudaifa was not there because she had been detained in southern Turkey in 2018 while living there under a false name. She was extradited to Iraq in February this year and remanded in custody while authorities investigated her for terrorism-related crimes.

UN investigators say they have clear and convincing evidence that IS committed genocide and numerous other international crimes against the Yazidi religious minority, whose members were given the ultimatum to convert or die.

Thousands of Yazidis were killed, while thousands more were enslaved, with women and children abducted from their families and subjected to brutal abuses, including serial rape and other sexual violence, they found.

The UN investigators also say IS committed war crimes, including murder and torture during the massacre of about 1,700 unarmed, predominantly Shia Muslim cadets and personnel from Iraq’s Camp Speicher military base in 2014.

When asked by the BBC about such atrocities, Umm Hudaifa said she had challenged her husband about having “the blood of those innocent people” on his hands.

She also said she was “felt ashamed” and was “very sorry” about what happened to Yazidi women and children, at least nine of whom were allegedly bought to her homes as slaves.

Yazidis who were abducted and raped by members of IS have filed a civil lawsuit in Iraq accusing Umm Hudaifa of colluding in the kidnapping and sexual enslavement of girls and women. She denied the accusations.

Iraqi courts have handed down hundreds of death sentences and life prison terms to men and women convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation” in recent years.

Human rights groups have said the charge is too broad and vaguely worded, and that the trials have often been rushed and based on confessions often obtained under torture.