A court in Baghdad sentenced 19 Russian women to life in prison for joining Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in the country.
A Central Criminal Court ruling determined on Sunday the Russian women were guilty of “joining and supporting” ISIL, AFP news agency reported.
The women, many accompanied by their children, addressed the court through a translator – a Russian -language professor at Baghdad University hired by the Russian embassy.
A Russian diplomat at the hearing said the families of the women will be contacted and “informed of the verdict”.
Most of the women on trial claimed to have been misled into making the trip to Iraq.
“I did not know we were in Iraq … I went with my husband and my children to Turkey to live there and then I suddenly discovered I was actually in Iraq,” one of the accused said on Sunday.
ISIL fighters surprised Iraqi forces with a lightning-quick offensive in 2014 and captured about one-third of the country, including the second-largest city Mosul, among others.
Since declaring victory over ISIL in late 2017, Iraqi authorities have arrested more than 560 women and 600 children identified as either as members of the group or relatives of fighters.
Earlier this month, an Iraqi court sentenced French national Djamila Boutoutaou to life imprisonment for joining the armed group.
Boutoutaou told authorities at the time she travelled with her husband thinking they would go on a holiday, but soon realised once in Turkey that her “husband was a jihadist”.
Her husband was later killed in a military operation near Mosul along with their son. Boutoutaou subsequently surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq.
Experts estimate Iraq has detained more than 20,000 people over suspected ties to the group and has sentenced more than 300 people to death so far. Twelve ISIL widows were given the death penalty in February.
Iraq‘s anti-terrorism laws empower courts to convict people who are believed to have helped ISIL, even if they were not directly involved in fighting.