Several dozen Yazidi women kidnapped by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq militants (ISIS) have been taken from Iraq to Syria, forced to convert and sold into marriage to militants, an activist group says.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it had confirmed that at least 27 Yazidi women had been sold for around $1,000 each to ISIS fighters.
The group said it was aware that some 300 Yazidi women had been kidnapped and transported to Syria by the militants, but it had so far documented the sale into marriage of 27.
"In recent weeks, some 300 women and girls of the Yazidi faith who were abducted in Iraq have been distributed as spoils of war to fighters from the Islamic State," a statement said.
The group said it had documented several cases in which the fighters then sold the women as brides for $1,000 each to other ISIS members after forcing them to convert to Islam.
"The Observatory documented at least 27 cases of those being sold into marriage by Islamic State members in the north-east of Aleppo province, and parts of Raqqa and Hassakeh province," SOHR said.
It added that some Syrian Arabs and Kurds had tried to buy some of the women in a bid to set them free, but they were only being sold to ISIS members.
The Observatory said it was unclear what had happened to the rest of the 300 women, and strongly denounced the "sale of these women who are being treated as though they are objects to buy and sell".
Both U.N. officials and Yazidis fleeing ISIS advances in Iraq have said fighters kidnapped women to be sold into forced marriages.
U.N. religious right monitor Heiner Beilefeldt warned earlier this month of reports of women being executed and kidnapped by ISIS militants.
"We have reports of women being executed and unverified reports that strongly suggest that hundreds of women and children have been kidnapped – many of the teenagers have been sexually assaulted, and women have been assigned or sold to IS fighters," she said.
Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority who follow an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism, are dubbed "devil worshippers" by ISIS militants because of their unorthodox blend of beliefs and practices.
The ISIS emerged from the one-time Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda but has since broken with that group and espouses an interpretation of Islam that has been widely rejected.
It has pressed a campaign of terror in the areas under its control in Syria and Iraq, which it deems an Islamic caliphate, carrying out decapitations, crucifixions and public stonings.
In June, the group launched a lightning offensive in Iraq, overrunning parts of five provinces.
In August, it captured Yazidi villages in the area of Mount Sinjar, prompting an enormous outpouring of the minority amid reports of executions and the abduction of women.