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Widow of ISIS leader sentenced to death in Iraq: What we know

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife held Yazidi women captured by the Islamic State in her home, according to Iraqi authorities.
An internal security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of Islamic State fighters, in the al-Hol camp in al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria, on July 23, 2019.

A widow of late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been sentenced to death for holding Yazidi women captive, Iraq announced on Wednesday.

What we know: The Al-Karkh Criminal Court in Baghdad said the widow "detained Yazidi women in her house,” adding that the women were kidnapped by ISIS in Sinjar, located in western Iraq. She was sentenced under the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law and the 2021 Yazidi Female Survivors Law, the official Iraqi News Agency reported, citing Iraq’s judiciary.

The judiciary did not name the wife, referring to her only as the “terrorist woman,” according to the agency. Agence France-Presse citing a judicial source reported her name as Asma Muhammad, 

Little is known about Muhammad. A 2016 New York Times report identified Asma Fawzi Muhammad al-Kubaysi as a wife and cousin of Baghdadi. In 2019, Turkish police said they arrested Muhammad in 2018 in the country’s south, identifying her as Baghdadi’s first wife, according to reports at the time. CNN reported her age as 65 in 2019. 

AFP reported that she was brought back to Iraq after being detained in Turkey. In February, Iraq announced the repatriation of members of Baghdadi’s family.

The death sentence ruling must be ratified by an Iraqi court of appeals to become final, Reuters reported.

Baghdadi, who was killed in a US raid in 2019 in northwest Syria’s Barisha, reportedly had four wives.

Why it matters: Backed by a US-led international coalition, Iraq defeated ISIS in late 2017. The group no longer holds territory in Iraq but has remained active since then. In May, a suspected ISIS attack in the east of the country left several Iraqi soldiers dead, including a high-ranking officer.

In its assault on Sinjar in 2014, ISIS targeted members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi community, killing thousands and taking thousands more captive. The US-based Public Library of Science concluded in 2017 that around 3,100 Yazidis were killed in the assault, while another roughly 6,800 were kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters, Reuters reported at the time.

In 2021, UNITAD, the United Nations team investigating alleged ISIS crimes, said it "established clear and convincing evidence that genocide was committed by ISIL (ISIS) against the Yazidi as a religious group."

A 2022 report from the Yazidi organization Yazda estimated that 2,763 Yazidis remain missing since the 2014 ISIS attack. Another roughly 200,000 are still displaced, living in camps in northern Iraq and in the Kurdistan Region.

Iraq’s persecution of alleged ISIS members has drawn criticism from outside governments and human rights groups. In a 2023 report on human rights practices in Iraq, the US State Department wrote that “courts routinely accepted forced confessions as evidence, which in some ISIS-related counterterrorism cases was the only evidence considered.”