The trial of Leonora Messing, a German woman who moved to Syria when she was 15 to join the Islamic State group, began behind closed doors on Tuesday as she stands accused of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
Messing, now 22, is in the dock in the eastern German city of Halle on suspicion that she and her IS husband enslaved a Yazidi woman in Syria in 2015.
In the trial scheduled to last until at least mid-May, Messing also faces charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and weapons law violations.
The high-profile case has sparked soul-searching in Germany about how a small-town teenager became radicalized and joined the Islamist cause.
‘She was a good student’
The young woman ran away from her home to the part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State in March 2015.
After arriving in Raqa, then the de facto “capital” of the Islamic State in Syria, she became the third wife of a German citizen and known jihadist.
Messing’s father, a baker from the German town of Breitenbach, only learned that his daughter had converted to a radical branch of Islam by opening his abandoned computer and reading her diary after she disappeared.
Six days after her disappearance, her father received a message informing him that his daughter “chose Allah and Islam” and had “reached the caliphate.”
“She was a good student,” her father, Maik Messing, told local media in 2019.
“She was going to a retirement home to read to the elderly. She was at the carnival as a majorette. That’s when a lot of the people we know last saw her.”
Messing had been living a double life and was visiting, apparently without his parents’ knowledge, a mosque in the western city of Frankfurt that was being targeted by Germany’s national intelligence service.
She is among more than 1,150 Islamists who have left Germany since 2011 for Syria and Iraq, according to government findings.
His case has attracted particular scrutiny because of his young age and because his father agreed to be followed for four years by a team of reporters from the public broadcaster NDR.
As part of the report, he released thousands of messages that he continued to exchange with his daughter, offering rare insights into daily life under the Islamic State, but also eventually about his attempts to break free.
Charged with human trafficking and crimes against humanity
Prosecutors say Messing engaged in human trafficking after her husband “bought” and then “sold” a 33-year-old Yazidi woman.
Messing, who had given birth to two little girls, ended up being detained in a Kurdish-controlled camp in northern Syria.
Her husband, Martin Lemke, was captured in 2019 by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the de facto army of the Kurdish administration, two of his wives revealed at the time.
In December 2020, Messing was repatriated in one of four operations that brought a total of 54 people, most of them children, back to Germany.
Messing was arrested on arrival at Frankfurt airport, but was later released.
Germany has repeatedly been ordered by its courts to repatriate the wives and children of jihadists.
A Berlin court ruled in October 2019 that a German woman and her three children should be returned, arguing that the children were traumatized and should not be separated from their mother.
There are an estimated 61 Germans still in camps in northern Syria, as well as around 30 people with a link to Germany, according to official estimates.
A German court in November issued the world’s first ruling recognizing crimes against the Yazidi community as genocide, in a verdict hailed by activists as a “historic” victory for the minority.
The Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking group from northern Iraq, have been persecuted for years by Islamic State militants who have killed hundreds of men, raped women and forcibly recruited children as fighters.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism