A controversial Canadian charity said to be helping liberate women and children kidnapped by Islamic State is “not what it seems” and its brokers in Iraq are “worse than ISIS,” according to a woman who has witnessed their actions.
“I’ve met their so-called ‘brokers’ that are no better than Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS]. In fact, they’re worse, because they’re Yazidi men profiting from the suffering, rape, and torture of their own women and children. I don’t support lining the pockets of people like that,” said Gill Rosenberg, the Israeli-Canadian woman who went to Kurdistan last year to fight against Islamic State.
Rosenberg told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that she had witnessed one liberation carried out by the organization Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq, but was not working with them, despite comments made by the head of CYCI to Channel 2 this week.
The head and founder of CYCI, Canadian Jewish businessman Steve Maman, also told the Post on Monday that Rosenberg had returned several weeks ago to Iraq with CYCI, and sent photos including two that showed her apparently taking part in the group’s work, though she says she has distanced herself from them due to questions about the organization.
“I am not working with Steve.
There are a lot of question marks with CYCI that weren’t apparent until I got on the ground. At this point I have had zero contact with Steve for days and he continues to throw my name into the media even though I’ve told him I want to have no part of the organization,” Rosenberg said in a Facebook message sent to the Post on Tuesday.
Rosenberg, who said she is not working for any organization and is currently in Iraqi Kurdistan “visiting friends and front lines” also said that she had asked someone to tell Maman not to use photos of her, and that “she’s very upset to see two articles in the Israeli press where Steve is quoted saying I am his ambassador on the ground.”
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“I’ve been here for almost three weeks and saw one liberation which was Steve’s. Myself and two others have distanced ourselves from Steve once we realized things weren’t as they seemed,” she added.
That said, she added that “I believe Steve is doing good work, but there’s a lot of problems he needs to resolve before I could involve myself in CYCI,” and “I know he has good intentions, but he’s gone about it the wrong way.”
Rosenberg, 31, made international news late last year when she traveled to Kurdistan in order to, in her words, fight Islamic State alongside the Kurds and prevent genocide.
She set off for Kurdistan not long after spending four years in jail in the US for her role in a phone scam based in Israel that bilked elderly Americans out of over $25 million.
In an interview with the Post last month, a couple of weeks after she returned to Israel, she said she planned to work for CYCI, which was just then getting off the ground and beginning to receive media attention.
In mid-August, shortly after the interview, she posted a video of herself on Facebook saying that she was joining CYCI as a volunteer to raise awareness for the organization.
Rosenberg’s comments on Tuesday came after a week in which controversy has stormed around CYCI, following a VICE article about a group of Yazidi spiritual leaders, politicians, activists, and aid workers who have demanded that Maman provide evidence to his claims that he has rescued 128 Christian and Yazidi women and children from Islamic State through brokers on the ground in Iraq and using ransom money, much of which he says he raised in the Montreal Sephardi community.
In the letter – which Maman called “a Mickey Mouse, Disney World document” – the signatories say “it is imperative that any organization claiming to conduct such a high-level project, especially one that deals so visibly with such sensitive problems, recognize the need for accountability and open itself to the scrutiny of the leadership of the Yazidi community.”
The letter says Maman “has brought a high level of visibility to a delicate and sensitive rescue effort that should have been kept low-profile,” adding,“we are concerned that this may be reckless.”
Maman, an importer of luxury and vintage cars and crystal, who also works in real estate, questioned the letter’s validity, saying that it wasn’t on an official letterhead. He also questioned whether or not the people on the list were actually representatives of the Yazidi people and accused several of them of corruption.
Over the past week his group has been accused of aiding Islamic State by paying ransom money raised online, with many questioning whether he could be violating Canadian law or at least creating incentive for further kidnappings.
Maman, for his part, says that he is “re-compensating” people for the sex slaves they bought, and that the money goes to pay for security for people inside and outside of land controlled by Islamic State, and that he never deals with Islamic State and has no idea what his brokers do on the ground anyway.
“Maybe they [the brokers] negotiate really well, maybe they use force to get the children back, maybe they refund them the price they [the Islamic State fighters] paid,” Maman told the Post this week, adding, “I have no clue what goes on there, no one there is testifying.”
Last week GoFundMe suspended the donation campaign of CYCI, which had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, though Maman said Sunday they continue to receive money through donations to the group’s website.
He also said that he doesn’t believe that the negative publicity has hurt his organization, and said this week that “it was like one of the Kardashians said, any press is good, whether it’s good or bad,” paraphrasing what he said was a quote he read in one of his wife’s issues of InTouch magazine.
Minutes later, however, he said, “Steve Maman is losing his temper because he is angry,” adding that his name has been dragged through the mud and that a number of people, including relatives of the signatories of the letter published by VICE have taken credit for liberations he carried out and have scammed Yezidi families out of large sums of money.
Good press or not, an attorney for Maman last week sent out a cease-and-desist letter to the women’s rights group, the RINJ (Rape is no Joke) Foundation, telling them to stop posting negative comments about CYCI on their Facebook page.
In an email sent to the Post this week, RINJ said that “giving money to ISIS in exchange for a human slave from ISIS’s child sex trade businesses is a serious crime in numerous jurisdictions, including those covered in the ICC Rome Statute, United Nations resolutions, Canada’s anti-terrorism statutes, American anti-terrorism statutes.”
The group added “it does not matter what your stated purpose might be, if you put money into the child sex trade business you increase the number of girls forced into sex slavery.”
An American retiree who asked not to be named said that she had witnessed one liberation by CYCI in July and stated that “there are ulterior self-serving motives for which people have attacked Steve which have not been reported. I am aware of these hidden motives but cannot discuss them.”
Another reported witness, a Canadian journalist named Sean Moore, said “as far as criticism of Mr. Maman, I understand.
I was also skeptical about his work. But I saw it with my own eyes. It is true and I am grateful for that guy.”
According to the Yazidi community leaders, over 5,000 Yazidis were abducted by Islamic State last year and thousands remain captive.
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