WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared unfamiliar with the work and cause of Nobel laureate Nadia Murad, a former captive of the terror group the Islamic State, as she pleaded with him to help the Yazidis of Iraq.
Murad, one of thousands of women and girls from the ancient faith abducted by the terror group as it overran swathes of Iraq in 2014, joined a group of survivors of religious persecution who met Trump in the Oval Office on the sidelines of a major meeting at the State Department.
A video of the exchange, in which Trump asked the prominent activist why she won the Nobel prize and where her murdered family was now, has been circulating widely.
After Murad explained how her mother and six brothers were killed, Trump asked, “where are they now?”
“They killed them,” Murad replied quickly. “They are in the mass grave in Sinjar, and I’m still fighting just to live in safe[ty]. Please do something.”
In August 2014, two months after sweeping across Iraq’s Sunni heartland, IS jihadists made a second push into an area that had been under Kurdish security control. Thousands of Yazidi men were massacred when the fighters attacked the town of Sinjar and thousands of women and girls were kidnapped and enslaved, Murad among them. Mass graves have since been unearthed in the region.
According to the religious affairs ministry of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, IS has abducted more than 6,400 Yazidis. Around half have been rescued or managed to escape. The fate of the others is unknown, although IS has lost most of the territory it seized in Iraq, including Sinjar.
Murad managed to escape after three months in captivity and chose to speak about her experiences. At the age of 23, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
In her conversation with Trump, she told the US president that 3,000 Yazidis remained missing. Trump then asked Murad about her Nobel Peace Prize which she won in 2018 for her work. “And you had the Nobel Prize? That’s incredible. They gave it to you for what reason?” he asked.
With little pause, Murad, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, repeated her story. “For, after all this happened to me, I didn’t give up,” she said. “I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women. This was the first time a woman from Iraq she get out, and she spoke about what happened.”
“Oh really, is that right?” Trump replied. “So you escaped?”
“I escaped, but I don’t have my freedom yet,” she answered. “Please do something. It’s not about one family,” she went on.
During the exchange with Murad, Trump, who has boasted of crushing the self-styled caliphate of the Islamic State group that once stretched across Iraq and Syria, also appeared at a loss when she asked him to press the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to create safe conditions for the Yazidis to return.
“Today you can solve our problem. Now there is no ISIS but we cannot go back because Kurdish government and the Iraqi government, they are fighting each other (over) who will control my area,” Murad explained. “And we cannot go back if we cannot protect our dignity, our families.”
“But ISIS is gone and now it’s Kurdish and who?” Trump asked, before later telling her, “I know the area very well.”
Murad also explained how Yazidis took dangerous routes to find safety in Germany, whose welcome to refugees has been vocally criticized by Trump.
The US leader also appeared unfamiliar when he met a representative from the Rohingya, a Muslim minority targeted in a brutal campaign two years ago in Myanmar.
One day earlier, his administration banned travel to the United States by Myanmar’s army chief and three other senior officers, calling the violence “ethnic cleansing.”
The Trump administration frequently speaks of promoting religious freedom, a key issue for much of his evangelical Christian base.
Government ministers and representatives of persecuted groups spent three days at the State Department for a meeting on religious freedom.