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Frontline's "Escaping ISIS" documents the brutality of "purification"


Former lawyer Khalil al-Dakhi runs an “underground railroad” rescuing enslaved Yazidi women and children held by ISIS. PBS photo

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The inhumanity of ISIS -- if one can even call them human -- is reinforced on a daily basis as these immoral religious fanatics rape and pillage their way through Syria and Iraq.

At least someone is doing something about it, although hardly in leaps and bounds. The stark Frontline documentary “Escaping ISIS” (Tuesday, July 14th at 9 p.m. central on PBS) is a story of small but heartening victories via an “underground railroad” led by former lawyer Khalil al-Dakhi. After his Northern Iraq town fell prey to the enemy, al-Dakhi and his guerrilla team have been striking back by rescuing Yazidi women and some of their young children from the clutches of ISIS.

Frontline correspondent Edward Watts spent two months filming and documenting these efforts. Al-Dakhi, who’s matter-of-fact about the risks involved and the probability of success, is a tour guide who keeps his emotions in check and his ears to the ground. Once captured, the Yazidis often are sold to successions of highest bidders, who rape and mistreat them at will while preaching purification.

“ISIS seems them as devil-worshipping pagans who must be cleansed,” Watts says.

Some of the women have hidden their cell phones and managed to contact either al-Dakhi or his allies.

“It can take us a whole month to rescue one family or sometimes one person,” he says.

But one such effort pays major dividends. More than 30 women and children are clandestinely freed from their captors before making a long, dangerous trip back home on foot. One of the women speaks of being raped and beaten multiple times on a single night. She can’t forget the foul smell of more than a dozen men, and tells of brushing her teeth 10 times a day in an effort to somehow feel clean again. The tearful reunions go hand in hand with recurring nightmares.

“Escaping ISIS” also includes smuggled underground footage of other atrocities, which are edited for the PBS presentation. At the end of the film, viewers are told that two of al-Dakhi’s men were captured and stoned to death.

Frontline continues to go where hardly any news outlets will, although HBO’s Vice series also has been venturing far and wide since premiering in spring of 2013. This is journalism that counts in times when the longstanding broadcast network evening newscasts increasingly seem content to say “Look at this” before showing the latest “viral” video of a vehicular wreck, an animal escapade or a baby reacting sourly to his or her first lemon wedge. “Escaping ISIS” is made of decidedly sterner stuff than that.


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