Suspended sentence for German woman who joined IS aged 15

1 min 31Approximate reading time

A German woman who joined the Islamic State group in Syria as a 15-year-old was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on Wednesday but cleared of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

Judges found Leonora Messing, now 22, guilty of membership of a terrorist organisation, a spokesman for the higher regional court in Naumburg said in a statement.

Prosecutors had accused Messing and her husband of purchasing and enslaving a Yazidi woman in Syria in 2015.

But the judges found this could not be proven during her trial in the eastern city of Halle, held behind closed doors because Messing was a minor at the time of the alleged events.

The high-profile case prompted some soul-searching when it came to light over how a teenage girl from a small German town became radicalised and joined the Islamist cause.

Messing, a former high school band majorette, ran away from home bound for the IS-controlled part of Syria in March 2015.

After reaching Raqa, then the de facto "capital" of IS in Syria, she became the third wife of a German national and known jihadist.

Messing's father, a baker from the German village of Breitenbach, only learned his daughter had converted to a radical brand of Islam by opening her abandoned computer and reading her journal after her disappearance.

Six days after she vanished, her father received a message informing him his daughter "chose Allah and Islam" and that she had "arrived in the caliphate".

Messing, who had given birth to two small girls, wound up detained in a Kurdish-controlled camp in northern Syria.

Her husband, Martin Lemke, was captured in 2019 by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish administration's de-facto army, two of his wives told AFP at the time.

In December 2020, Messing was repatriated in one of four operations bringing a total of 54 people, most of them children, back to Germany.

Messing was arrested upon her arrival at Frankfurt airport but later released.

She now lives close to where she grew up in Germany with her two children, according to local media.

A German court in November issued the first ruling worldwide to recognise crimes against the Yazidi community as genocide, in a verdict hailed by activists as a "historic" win for the minority.

The Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking group hailing from northern Iraq, have for years been persecuted by IS militants who have killed hundreds of men, raped women and forcibly recruited children as fighters.