At the height of Islamic State’s rule, Umm Sayyaf would regularly prepare her home in eastern Syria to receive her husband’s friend. When the bearded man in the black robe arrived she would make tea and lay a platter of food in a sitting room. Other doors in the sprawling house in the town of Shahadah remained locked; enslaved women and girls from the Yazidi community huddled together in one room, and an American hostage, Kayla Mueller, sat alone in another.
The man in the black robe was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, and Umm Sayyaf’s husband, Abu Sayyaf – an extremist who had risen through the ranks of the terror group alongside Baghdadi to become one of its top three figures – was the Isis oil minister. She, meanwhile, came from a well-known Iraqi jihadist family: her lineage and spouse earned trust and made her one of the few women to have regular access to the Isis leadership – until the day US commandos came for them in May 2015.
In the four years since the raid that killed her husband and led to her capture, Umm Sayyaf, 29, otherwise known by her birth name, Nisrine Assad Ibrahim, has been the most important of Isis wives in captivity; a keeper of some of the organisation’s darkest secrets and an alleged participant in some of its most depraved acts.