On August 15, 2017, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on international religious freedom. It provides a detailed overview of religious freedom in approximately 200 countries around the world. It also notes violations and abuses committed by governments, individuals and extremist groups. In the newest edition, ISIS was cited frequently for its targeting of multiple religions, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The following are excerpts from the report on ISIS operations in the Middle East and North Africa.

 

PREFACE

“America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations. ISIS’ brutal treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East has drawn a great degree of attention over the last few years. The 2016 Annual Report details these atrocities.

ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death. ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled. ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. The protection of these groups – and others who are targets of violent extremism – remains a human rights priority for the Trump Administration.”

 

IN ALGERIA

Executive Summary

“Jund al-Khilafa, a terrorist group affiliated with ISIS, took credit for the October 28 killing of a police officer in Constantine. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, another terrorist group, took credit for a March 18 attack on a gas plant in Krechba.”

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

“The Jund al-Khilafa group, which has sworn allegiance to ISIS and also is a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for killing a police officer in the city of Constantine in October and continued to call for violence against those who disagreed with its interpretation of Islam.”

Read Algeria’s full country profile here.

 

IN EGYPT

Executive Summary

“Religious minorities continued to face significant threats of terrorist attacks and sectarian violence. On December 11, a suicide bomb attack later claimed by ISIS killed 29 people during Sunday services at part of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex in Cairo.”

Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

“Lethal violence connected with religion continued. On December 11, 29 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack during Sunday services at Saints Peter and Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. In attacks claimed by a terrorist organization that had pledged allegiance to ISIS, a Coptic priest and a Sufi sheikh in northern Sinai were killed.”

“On December 11, 29 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack during Sunday liturgy in the women’s section of Saints Peter and Paul Church, which is part of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex in Cairo. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to further attack Christians in “a war against polytheism,” referring to the Christian belief in the Trinity. The Ministry of Interior said it had arrested four people in connection with the bombing. The army repaired the damage in two weeks’ time, following President Sisi’s order for it to be completed in time for Coptic Orthodox Christmas on January 7.”

“On June 30, three armed men in a truck shot and killed Father Raphael Moussa, a priest at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in al-Arish in North Sinai, according to press reports. The local ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility on social media the same day. The attack took place on the third anniversary of the mass protests calling on the army to oust former president Mohamed Morsi.”

“The same group abducted Suleiman Abu Heraz, a renowned 98-year-old blind Sufi sheikh, from his home in North Sinai, accused him and another sheikh of sorcery, and beheaded both of them, according to press reports. In a November 19 statement, the ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for the beheadings and published a video of the attack.”

Read Egypt’s full country report here.

 

IN IRAQ

Executive Summary

“Throughout the year, the government fought numerous battles to regain control of significant terrain lost to ISIS. At the same time, ISIS pursued a campaign of violence against members of all faiths, but against non-Sunnis in particular. In areas under its control, ISIS continued to commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, random detentions and mass abductions, torture, abduction and forced conversion of non-Muslim male children, and the enslavement and sex trafficking of women and girls from minority religious communities. ISIS also continued to engage in harassment, intimidation, robbery, and the destruction of personal property and religious sites. In areas not under ISIS control, it continued suicide bombings and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks against all segments of society. ISIS also targeted religious pilgrims and pilgrimage sites for attack. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) reported ISIS IEDs caused at least 5,403 casualties (1,167 killed and 4,236 wounded), amounting to half of all verified casualties in the first half of the year.”

“The Secretary of State said that in his judgment, ISIS was responsible for genocide against religious groups in the areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Senior officials, including the Deputy Secretary of State, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, and the Deputy Special Envoy, visited the country to urge the government to protect the country’s diverse religious communities.”

“The Ambassador, embassy officers, and consulates general officials issued public statements condemning ISIS abuses of religious freedom. Embassy and consulate general officials maintained an active dialogue with Shia, Sunni, and religious minority communities, emphasizing tolerance, inclusion, and mutual understanding. Embassy assistance programs supported minority religious communities and ethnosectarian reconciliation.”

Religious Demography

“According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq was 3.06 million at year’s end. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the IOM estimate one million citizens remain internally displaced as a result of sectarian violence dating from 2006 and 2008 before ISIS became active. During the conflict with ISIS beginning in 2014, up to 3.5 million persons were internally displaced.”

Government Practices

“In October, AI reported that men in Federal Police (a Shia-dominated organization) uniforms carried out multiple unlawful killings of Sunnis suspected of being ISIS militants or sympathizers in and around Mosul. In some cases, AI stated individuals were tortured before they were shot and killed execution style or run over with armored vehicles.”

“The Ministry of Interior’s spokesperson reported that in June, 700 Sunni men were detained following the battle of Falluja based on their confessions of being ISIS supporters. According to the Anbar Police Command, out of 19,400 Sunni men initially arrested under the antiterrorism law for suspected connections to ISIS, 2,046 men were detained, while the remaining individuals were released.”

“Christian groups and political leaders accused members of the KRG Peshmerga and other security forces of taking over homes abandoned by Christians as they fled from ISIS to safety in Erbil and other areas of the IKR.”

“Advocacy groups and representatives of religious minority communities reported continued emigration of minority community members subjected to ISIS violence in Mosul and across the Ninewa Plain.”

“While the government continued to support the establishment of armed volunteer groups to counter ISIS, Prime Minister Abadi repeatedly called for these groups to place themselves under the command and control of the security forces. In 2015, the Council of Ministers announced the PMF was an official body reporting to the prime minister, but the prime minister’s ability to control the PMF remained a source of disagreement and debate.”

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

“ISIS continued to target victims on the basis of their religious identity, killing and subjecting people of all faiths to violence, abductions, and intimidation. Media reported the security situation remained precarious as a result of ISIS’s occupation of territory and the escalation of fighting between ISIS and government forces in Ninewa and Kirkuk; although the Iraqi military and progovernment forces retook large amounts in territory in both provinces, fighting continued in some areas of Anbar and Salah al-Din. In areas under its control, ISIS continued to commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, and detention, including mass abductions and enslavement of women and girls from minority religious communities. ISIS also continued to engage in harassment, intimidation, robbery, and the destruction of personal property and religious sites. In areas not under ISIS control, it continued suicide bombings and VBIED attacks against civilians. ISIS also targeted religious pilgrims and pilgrimage sites for attack. ISIS enforced strict rules on dress, behavior and movement on the inhabitants who remained in the areas it controlled, and severely punished infractions. Its fighters carried out execution-style public killings and other punishments, including after its “courts” condemned people for transgressing its rules or its interpretation of Islamic law. ISIS fighters burned or destroyed Shia, Yezidi, and other religious shrines and cultural artifacts.

UNAMI reported in December that 12,038 people were killed during the year and another 411 were wounded as a result of bombings and acts of violence, mostly in Baghdad and in the northern and western provinces. ISIS claimed responsibility for the majority of these bombings.

After forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians from subdistricts of Mosul to Tal Afar, ISIS killed 172 civilians held in al-Jazeera secondary school in the Hay al-Khadraa neighborhood of Tal Afar, according to UNAMI. Reportedly, among those killed were 43 Yezidi and Shia girls and women who had been enslaved by the group since June 2014.

In November ISIS posted on its Wilayat al-Jazeera website photos of victims killed under the slogan Iqamat al-hudud’(imposing legal penalties) for allegedly committing breaches of sharia, including smoking. One of the victims portrayed in the photos was reportedly a cigarette merchant. The exact dates of the killings are not known. In some photos, children are seen witnessing the executions.

ISIS posted a video on the Wilayat al-Jazeera website showing four children between the ages of 10 to 12 shooting and killing four civilians accused of spying for the ISF and Peshmerga. The video shows two children aiming their guns at the heads of two kneeling civilians and then shooting them. The other two children performed the same act against two other civilians in a location near a river. The video identifies two of the children as originally from Uzbekistan and Russia and the other two from Iraq, while the victims were identified as shop owners from the Baaj District of Ninewa Governorate. One of the children in the video was recognized by his Yezidi parents, having been abducted from his family by ISIS at an earlier date.

ISIS targeted all religious minorities who refused to convert to Islam or who opposed the terrorist group. ISIS also targeted Sunni civilians who cooperated with the ISF. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reported cases of ISIS killing women for not wearing a veil. According to multiple reports from international NGOs and the local press, ISIS fighters continued to question members of detained groups to determine if they were Sunni, and then killed or abducted the non-Sunnis.

Coordinated ISIS bomb attacks continued to target Shia neighborhoods, markets, mosques, and funeral processions, as well as Shia shrines. On July 3, a coordinated bomb attack in Baghdad resulted in the deaths of more than 300 and injuries to hundreds more. A few minutes after midnight, a suicide bomber in a truck targeted the mainly Shia district of Karrada, busy with late-night shoppers for Ramadan. A second roadside bomb was detonated in the suburb of Sha’ab, killing at least five. On April 4, there were multiple coordinated suicide bombings, including two in the Shia-majority southern provinces of Basrah and Dui War. Five people died in Basrah and in Dui War, and 14 people were killed and 27 wounded at a restaurant popular with Shia PMF fighters. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

ISIS fired chemical weapons into the Salah al-Din villages of Tara and Basheer on March 16 and May 2, respectively. The attacks injured more than 400 victims, who were primarily Turkmen Shia civilians. ISIS fighters continued their practice of claiming responsibility for these attacks via social media postings.

Large celebrations of Ashura in Najaf and Karbala were violence free, in part because of extensive security efforts.

According to the mayor of Sinjar, as of September 27, mass graves containing the remains of ISIS victims were under investigation, others were located, and potentially dozens more remained in ISIS-controlled territory in Sinjar district. On April 26, Yezidi religious leaders in Lavish published an open letter to diplomats and human rights organizations reporting 410 Yezidi men had been missing for a year after the men were directed to a mosque in the ISIS-controlled city of Tal Afar and taken away by truck.

In August the Associated Press reported that analysis of satellite imagery identified a possible mass grave site at Badmouth Prison near Mosul, where more than 600 inmates died. The KRG exhumed 67 remains from a mass grave in Sinjar for DNA analysis.

According to the KRG MERA, 3,735 Yezidis captured by ISIS remained in ISIS captivity or were unaccounted for at year’s end.

The Yezidi Organization for Documentation reported ongoing cases of rape, forced labor, forced marriage, forced religious conversion, material deprivation, and battery by ISIS. ISIS provided videos of its fighters continuing sexual assaults on captured Yezidi women. ISIS repeatedly said it had conducted the “large-scale enslavement” of Yezidi women and children because of their religious beliefs.

NGOs reported ISIS continued to kidnap religious minorities for ransom. According to officials from a Turkmen Women’s Association, ISIS militants had kidnapped and held 500 Turkmen women and children from Tal Afar and Mosul since June 2014. A Shabak member of the Ninewa Provincial Council said ISIS held over 250 Shabak people (most of whom are thought to be Shia) captive, and had executed three Shabaks in October. UNAMI reported that between October 27 and the beginning of November, ISIS had relocated between 64 and 70 abducted Yezidi women from Aaliyah subdistrict of Tal Afar, Muhalabiya subdistrict of Mosul, and from Qayrawan subdistrict of Sinjar, to the Seventeen-Tamouz area in Mosul city. On November 4, ISIS allegedly brought an unspecified number of Yezidi women to Tal Afar and placed them in one of the schools. ISIS reportedly gave some of the women to its militants and sent others to Raqqa, Syria.

According to religious leaders, killings, forced conversion, threats of violence, and intimidation continued to motivate many minorities to leave ISIS-controlled areas. Yezidi civil rights activists reported 400,000 Yezidis were displaced to Dahuk Province in the IKR because of ISIS in 2014. Yezidi and Kaka’i IDPs largely remained in place during the year, with a limited number returning to liberated areas of Ninewa. Sources said between 10 to 15 Christian families were leaving the country daily.

In an October report, UNAMI stated ISIS’s attacks against Christians, Faili (Shia) Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabaean-Mandeans, Shabak, Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Yezidis, and others appeared to be part of a systematic campaign to suppress, permanently expel, or eradicate entire religious communities from their historic homelands now under ISIS control. ISIS continued to publish open threats via leaflets, social media, and press outlets of its intent to kill Shia “wherever they were found” on the basis of being “infidels.”

In Mosul, ISIS fighters reportedly continued to threaten with death local residents who did not convert to Islam. They also continued to punish those who failed to adhere to the group’s strict interpretation of sharia. ISIS continued to impose severe restrictions on women’s movement and dress, and enforcement patrols by ISIS forces were reportedly routine occurrences. According to local press reports, in June the director general of Yezidi affairs at the Ministry of Waqf said ISIS compelled captured Yezidis to fast during Ramadan, and beat those who refused to perform Islamic prayers five times daily.

ISIS fighters continued to attack mosques and other holy sites, including Sunni religious sites, rendering many of them unusable. They converted Christian churches into mosques, and looted and destroyed religious and cultural artifacts. In January UNESCO reported ISIS destroyed the Monastery of Saint Elijah, which was more than 1,400 years old, and the oldest Christian monastery in the country. In April ISIS destroyed Mosul’s “Clock Tower Church” with explosives. Based on their interpretation of Islam, in June ISIS members removed Islamic motifs and Quranic verses on Mosul’s mosques, and also converted churches to weapons storehouses or offices after destroying crosses and religious motifs in the churches. ISIS also damaged many churches and Yezidi temples located in the Ninewa plains during its occupation, including 17 Yezidi shrines in the towns of Bashiqa and Bahzani in the Bashiqa subdistrict. In addition, ISIS blew up the clock tower of the Roman Catholic Church of Al-Sa’a in Mosul city and the Church of Al-Qiayama in Bakhida city in al-Hamdaniya District. The terrorist organization also destroyed the Christian Shrine of Bahnam and Sara in the Nimrud subdistrict.”

U.S. Government Policy

”During a February 21-24 visit to Baghdad, Erbil, and Lalish, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the U.S. Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Asia urged the government to protect civil society, including the country’s diverse religious communities. In meetings with various government officials, they underscored the U.S. commitment to defeating ISIS and its divisive ideology. The two U.S. officials also met with NGO representatives, civil society activists, religious minority leaders, students, and journalists to discuss the need for religious tolerance and dialogue.”

“In September the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and Deputy Special Envoy consulted with a range of Iraqi leaders, including representatives of religious minority communities, to better understand the needs of communities liberated from ISIS. Also in September the Deputy Secretary of State led a delegation to Baghdad and Erbil, meeting with government officials, religious and ethnic minority leaders, and displaced persons to discuss efforts to defeat ISIS and respond to the urgent humanitarian and IDP crises in Iraq.”

“On March 17, the Secretary of State stated that, in his judgment, ISIS was responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. The embassy continued to support programs that support Iraqi and Kurdish organizations documenting ISIS atrocities.”

“On July 28 and 29, the United States convened an international meeting on Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities under ISIS in Washington, in which the Deputy Secretary of State, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Asia, and a variety of Iraqi government and civil society leaders participated.”

Read Iraq’s full country report here.

 

IN LEBANON

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

“On June 27, eight suicide bombers attacked the predominantly Christian village of Qaa near the Syrian border, killing five and wounding at least 28 others. The media quoted security officials and other experts as believing ISIS was responsible for the attacks, although there was no official claim of responsibility by any group.”

Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

“Leaders of Sunni, Shia, and Christian groups continued to condemn extremism and violence perpetrated in the name of religion following terrorist attacks in countries in the region by both ISIS and al-Nusra.”

Read Lebanon’s full country report here.

 

IN LIBYA

Executive Summary

“The government and its aligned forces carried out an anti-ISIS campaign from May to December that liberated the city of Sirte, previously ISIS’ principal stronghold outside Iraq and Syria. The government reportedly did not investigate crimes against religious minorities or religious sites.”

“ISIS and other terrorist and violent extremist groups engaged in killing, forced conversions, and a slave trade of Christian migrants from neighboring countries. Additionally, ISIS carried out targeted kidnappings and suicide bombings that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals. There were reports ISIS publicly executed individuals after accusing them of affiliating with Salafist groups. ISIS effectively controlled Sirte until December when GNA military operations pushed ISIS out of the city and the GNA announced the city’s liberation. Sirte was the site of ISIS abuses of religious minorities, including forced conversions, killings, and the operation of a slave trade of Christian migrants from neighboring countries. In Tripoli, some militias reportedly imposed restrictions on women’s dress and movement, and punished men for behavior they deemed to be “un-Islamic.”

Government Practices

“The GNA continued not to respond to reports of groups such as ISIS perpetrating attacks on individuals and religious sites, reportedly on the basis of religious belief. This was partly due to the GNA’s lack of capacity or lack of control over large areas of the country.”

“Political opponents of the GNA stated that the GNA’s “bureaucracy” charged with overseeing religious affairs did not regulate imams and other officials who supported ISIS and other violent extremist organizations.”

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

“U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations such as Ansar al-Sharia and ISIS operated across large swathes of territory during the year. Ansar al-Sharia operated branches in Benghazi and Derna, and maintained cells in other parts of the country. ISIS effectively controlled Sirte until December when a GNA military operation pushed it out of the city and the GNA declared its liberation; it was reported to have a smaller presence in other areas of the country. While in control of Sirte, ISIS and other extremist groups engaged in forced conversions, killings, and a slave trade of Christian migrants from neighboring countries. In Tripoli, some militias imposed restrictions on women’s dress and movement, and punished men for behavior they deemed “un-Islamic.”

ISIS conducted targeted killings, kidnappings, and suicide bombings that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of citizens, according to media reports and human rights organizations. In August Reuters reported that ISIS had abducted more than 500 Christian migrants en route to Europe, and enslaved, raped, and sold or exchanged at least 63 of the women captured. Many of those abducted were subject to forced conversation to Islam. There were reports of public executions. On February 7, ISIS executed five men in Sirte after accusing them of “Salafism” and of membership in brigades that attacked ISIS in 2015. In April ISIS executed eight people in Sirte and Ben Jawad for being part of a Salafi group. On April 5, ISIS publicly beheaded another man in Sirte for Salafi affiliation.

ISIS was widely reported to have restricted residents’ freedom to worship in areas under its control, and reportedly publicly executed and flogged residents it accused of violating sharia. Restrictions included forcing women to wear veils, banning music and smoking, and closing all shops during prayer times.

The eastern city of Derna was controlled by the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna, an umbrella organization consisting of Salafist groups, including Ansar al-Sharia, opposed to ISIS. This group was widely reported to have restricted Derna’s Sunni Muslims’ freedom to worship. They reportedly publicly executed and flogged residents accused of violating sharia, for instance by drinking alcohol.”

U.S. Government Policy

“Following the U.S. embassy evacuation from Tripoli and suspension of operations in July 2014, there were limited opportunities for high-level engagement on religious freedom with Libyan interlocutors. The U.S. government discussed religious freedom on a number of occasions with a variety of local and national leaders, particularly in the context of confronting extremist groups such as ISIS.”

Read Libya’s full country report here.

 

IN SYRIA

Executive Summary

“Nonstate actors, including a number of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN, also known as al-Nusra Front), targeted Shia, Alawites, Christians, and other religious minorities, as well as other Sunnis, with indiscriminate attacks as well as killings, kidnappings, physical mistreatment, and arrests in the areas of the country under their control. Extremist groups, for example, launched multiple suicide bomb attacks in Latakia Province, aiming their attacks at Alawite Muslims, according to the groups themselves. ISIS killed dozens through public executions, crucifixions, and beheadings of men, women, and children on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and cursing God. In Raqqa and elsewhere in Syria, ISIS continued to hold thousands of enslaved Yezidi women and girls kidnapped in Iraq and trafficked to Syria to be sold or distributed to ISIS members as “spoils of war” because of their religious beliefs. ISIS punished individuals with lashings or imprisonment for lesser religious offenses, such as insulting the Prophet Muhammed or failing to comply with standards of grooming and dress. ISIS required Christians to convert, flee, pay a special tax, or face execution. It destroyed churches, Shia shrines, and other religious heritage sites. ISIS used its own police force, court system, and revised school curriculum to enforce and spread its interpretation of Islam. JAN was responsible for similar executions and punishments, though the number of victims appeared much smaller than the number of ISIS victims. JAN continued to implement policies of forced Islamization in minority communities under its control, particularly among the Druze in Idlib. JAN also continued to indoctrinate children with its interpretation of Salafi-jihadist Islam including through schools and youth training camps.”

“In March the Secretary of State said that in his judgment ISIS was “responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

Religious Demography

“There was also a Yezidi population of approximately 80,000 before the civil war; media reports suggest this figure is higher due to Yezidis who arrived from Iraq as they fled military conflict and persecution by ISIS.”

Government Practices

“In a September interview with AFP, President Asad said “most of the militants belong to extremist groups, such as [ISIS], [JAN], [Ahrar al-Sham], and others…every terrorist is an enemy.” According to international media reports, leaders from a number of minority religious groups, such as representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities as well as prominent Druze activists, stated the government had their support because it was their protector against violent Sunni extremists.”

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

“Nonstate actors, including a number of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS and JAN, controlled portions of the country’s territory and continued to be responsible for killings, physical mistreatment, kidnappings, and arrests of members of religious groups they suspected of opposing their rule. Many rebel groups’ explicitly self-identified as Sunni Arab or Sunni Islamist and drew on a support base made up of almost exclusively Sunnis. ISIS publicized executions of individuals it accused of violating its interpretation of Islamic law. Religious offenses ISIS deemed punishable by death included blasphemy, apostasy, and cursing God. ISIS also punished individuals with lashings or imprisonment for lesser religious offenses, such as insulting the Prophet Muhammad or failing to comply with standards of grooming and dress. JAN and some allied rebel groups targeted Druze and Shia minorities in the northern part of the country, claiming responsibility for numerous bombings, including suicide attacks, which JAN continued to describe as reactions to the government’s “massacres of Sunnis.”

According to the media reports, ISIS executed prisoners it described as Shia and Alawite in multiple media releases throughout the year. In October ISIS released a photo series depicting the execution of an individual it said was a captured Shia government soldier in Homs. In September ISIS released an execution video featuring either a Shia or an Alawite “spy.”

The Alawite population faced attacks by some elements of the armed opposition, including ISIS, JAN, Jund al-Aqsa, and other extremist groups, reportedly because other minority groups believed government policy favored Alawites. Alawite leaders said they continued to fear a sectarian cleansing would follow a fall of the government. For example, in May ISIS claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Latakia Province that killed approximately 150 people and said it meant to target Alawites.

According to ISIS reporting and other sources, in areas under its control, ISIS police forces, known as Hisbah, continued to administer summary punishments for violations of the ISIS morality code. Men and women continued to face public beatings and whipping for smoking, possessing alcohol, listening to music, having tattoos, conducting business during prayer times, not attending Friday prayers, fighting, and not fasting during Ramadan. Alleged homosexuals faced execution. In July, August, December, and January, ISIS executed multiple men for alleged homosexual acts in Aleppo and Deir al-Zour provinces, according to the group’s own materials.

ISIS continued to attack Syrian Kurdish civilians as part of its ongoing fight against the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish-dominated militia with an ideology described by journalists and think tank reports as secular. ISIS characterized its fight against many Syrian Kurds and the YPG in sectarian terms, describing their targets as “atheists” and “apostates.” A large truck bomb blast killed approximately 50 people July 27 in Hasaka Province. The attack struck near a Kurdish security force headquarters and was the deadliest of its kind in recent years. In October an ISIS suicide bomber killed at least 22 people at a wedding in a YPG-controlled area of Hasaka Province. An ISIS suicide bomber killed 16 people at a bakery in the YPG-controlled area of Hasaka Province in early July. ISIS took responsibility for the attack in an online statement saying “it targeted the Kurdish YPG militia.” The attack followed a pattern of ISIS attacks on civilians perceived as supportive of a secular armed group.

ISIS also jailed and executed Sunnis in its areas of control for violating regulations based on its strict interpretation of Islamic law. In September ISIS beheaded 15 civilians on charges of “apostasy” in Deir al-Zour Province. In July ISIS executed a man by crucifixion in northern Aleppo province for apostasy for refusing to join prayers, according to ARA News. In May ISIS executed three civilians in Raqqa also on charges of apostasy for spying and fighting against the self-declared caliphate, according to activists. Similar executions in ISIS-controlled territories were reported throughout the year by Syrian activists, local media organizations, and in ISIS-released materials depicting the executions and explaining the religious justifications for them.”

“Yezidis, the UN, the Iraqi government, and others continued to report ISIS sexually enslaved thousands of Yezidi women and girls, as well as some Turkmen women, in Raqqa and other parts of ISIS-controlled territory. A June report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed abuses against thousands of Yezidi woman and children still held captive in the country. ISIS kidnapped these women and girls in Iraq and then trafficked them to Syria to be sold or distributed to ISIS fighters as “spoils of war” because of their religious beliefs. Escaped captives continued to report systematic rape, sexual violence, and domestic servitude by ISIS members, which ISIS documented in its own videos.

NGOs and media outlets reported the release in February of 42 Assyrian Christians, mostly young women and children, who had been abducted by ISIS in 2015 and held until their religious community raised a ransom payment. The status of other individuals kidnapped because of their religious affiliation remained unknown. Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi, kidnapped in April 2013, remained unaccounted for at year’s end. The condition of Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped by ISIS in July 2013 in Raqqa, remained unknown.

Activists, media, and ISIS sources reported ISIS continued to force Christians in areas under its control to pay a protection tax, reported by a Christian organization to be 164,000 Syrian pounds ($318) per person; convert to Islam; or be killed.

ISIS continued to teach new curricula based on its interpretation of Islam in schools throughout territory under its control. According to observers, the group banned several subjects it considered contrary to its ideology, including music, art, and aspects of history it deemed nationalist. ISIS schools justified its declaration of a so-called caliphate and described other forms of governance as un-Islamic. The textbooks also justified ISIS practices, including excommunication and other punishments for apostasy, heresy, and other religious crimes, according to multiple media reports and the group’s own reporting. ISIS publicized efforts to “re-educate” teachers who had previously taught in government schools. ISIS maintained a number of “Cubs of the Caliphate” youth training camps throughout its areas of control, releasing several videos documenting the training, including footage of weapons training. According to activists from Raqqa and former educators in the city, many families refused to send their children to ISIS schools, choosing to homeschool them instead. Resistance to ISIS education was reportedly so widespread that ISIS eventually implemented regulations requiring families to enroll their children in ISIS schools, according to activists and the group itself.”

“The ISIS police continued to punish individuals for accompanying “improperly dressed” female relatives. The al-Khanssaa all-female police force of ISIS continued to enforce prescribed moral regulations, sometimes violently, on women. For example, in November ISIS officials, including police, publicly whipped 39 people in al-Mayadeen, Deir al-Zour province, for fighting over agricultural land, according to activists.

In a recorded speech released in May, ISIS’ late senior leader and spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called on Muslims throughout the Middle East to rise up against Jews, “Crusaders,” and their “apostate” agents elsewhere in the region. In the speech, he implored followers all over the world to “terrorize” and “make examples of the Crusaders [i.e., Westerners]” by carrying out terrorist attacks, advising that “targeting those who are called ‘civilians’ is more beloved to us and more effective, as it is more harmful, more painful and a greater deterrent to [the infidel West].”

Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

“Christians reported they continued to feel threatened by religious intolerance among the opposition as the influence of violent extremist groups increased. ISIS continued to impose a special tax on Christian populations and other powerful rebel groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and JAN, continued to call for establishing a Sunni theocracy in press statements and media interviews.”

“Some societal and religious leaders continued to take steps to promote religious tolerance and encourage peaceful relations among religious groups. For example, Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, a Sunni Islamic scholar and opposition supporter residing outside the country, promoted his book opposing the violence of ISIS and calling on Syrians of all backgrounds to work together to build a state respecting pluralism and minority rights.”

“In June the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) denounced the ISIS suicide bombing that targeted Assyrian Christians in Qamishli, stating “…this is the fourth attack against the Syriac Assyrians in the past few months, ...which confirms the existence of a criminal scheme designed to terrorize this component of the Syrian society and force them to leave Syria.”

U.S. Government Policy

“ The Secretary of State in April stated, “we believe that the protection of religious and ethnic minorities is a fundamental test not just of our leadership, but of civilization itself,” and noted he had earlier determined that ISIS was committing genocide against religious minorities including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia. The Secretary and other senior U.S. officials reiterated this point at other times during the year.”

Read Syria’s full country report here

 

IN YEMEN

Executive Summary

“Attacks by terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS continued to take place. Militants suspected of being members of a group affiliated with ISIS killed four Catholic nuns during an attack on their convent and nursing home in Aden on March 4.”

Abuses by Foreign Forces or Nonstate Actors

“The civil conflict has been accompanied by sectarian violence. Terrorist groups, including AQAP and ISIS, have continued to contribute to the violence.”

“On March 4, four gunmen, whom media reported were suspected of being members of an ISIS-affiliated group, killed four nuns from the Missionaries of Charity during an attack on their nursing home in Aden. The nuns were among 16 civilians killed by the gunmen in the attack. The militants destroyed all Christian symbols and liturgical articles within the home. In the attack on the Christian nursing home, militants kidnapped Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian priest. On December 25, the militants released a video purportedly showing Uzhunnalil still in captivity and asking for help. He remained missing at the end of the year and it was unclear if he was still alive. Negotiations for his release continued.”

“Militants raided a girls school in Aden on March 8, to give “a last warning” to the students who had not yet adopted the imposed clothing rules detailed in leaflets signed by Yemeni affiliates of ISIS. The leaflet contained death threats addressed to Jews, Christians, and infidels “who dare to continue to wear indecent clothing.” The pamphlet stated, among other things, “We will kill anyone who violates the law of God.”

Read Yemen’s full country report here.

 

Click here to read the full report, which includes ISIS territory outside of the Middle East and North Africa.