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U.S. didn't violate crime victims' law in IS case, Va. judge says

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An American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, U.S., December 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

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  • Federal magistrate judge said U.S. crime victims' law doesn't extend overseas
  • DOJ recognized, in response to court fight, Yazidi women as crime victims under U.S. law

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(Reuters) - A U.S. magistrate judge said on Friday that the U.S. Justice Department had fulfilled obligations under federal law to keep a group of Yazidi women, as crime victims, informed about the detention and prosecution of the widow of an Islamic State figure.

Judge Theresa Buchanan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia from the bench rejected a bid from the five Yazidi women to enforce rights under the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA). The women asserted in a court filing that the defendant either participated in or supported physical and emotional abuse.

The defendant, Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, also known as Umm Sayyaf, is in custody in Iraq serving a life sentence, a U.S. prosecutor said on Friday. The DOJ in 2016 charged Sayyaf with providing material support to the Islamic State, but she has not been extradited to the U.S. Buchanan said the CVRA does not extend to overseas prosecutions.

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Lawyers for the Yazidi women assert they should have had a voice in the U.S. government's decision to transfer Sayyaf, once detained by U.S. forces, to Iraqi custody in 2015. The women are seeking information about proceedings against Sayyaf in Iraq and information about her detention.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher represents the Yazidi victims with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and the Center for Justice & Accountability. A lawyer for the government, Dennis Fitzpatrick, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Friday.

"The government has given us some of this information, but not very much," Gibson Dunn partner Zainab Ahmad, co-chair of the firm's national security practice, said in court. She added, "We don't know what the government has asked, or what effort they have made to get that information."

Ahmad told Reuters after the hearing that the "biggest victory" was the Justice Department's recognition, in response to a push in court, that the Yazidi women were crime victims under U.S. law. She said for many years the government had declined to take a position.

Sayyaf was charged for her role in an alleged conspiracy linked to the death of an American citizen. Buchanan said the U.S. should share with the Yazidi victims any information that was disclosed to the parents of Kayla Mueller.

The case is United States v. Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar a/k/a Umm Sayyaf, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 1:16-mj-63-MSN.

For the United States: Dennis Fitzpatrick

For movants: Zainab Ahmad of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

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