Their lives begin where the paved road ends. Getting there is a jarring ride along a dirt road that passes through small, dry canyons. The land is these people’s most precious possession — second only to life itself.
But they’re now faced with a new and terrible reality — the worst kind of neighbors have moved in.
“My sons refuse to move from this place because this is their father’s land,” said Zahara Ghorballi. “If we move from here the terrorists will take it.” The terrorists she speaks of have already done their worst to her.
In November, her youngest son was snatched. The 16-year-old shepherd was grazing his flock of sheep on the side of the mountain that looms over their lonely home in the sparsely populated valley below.
As if their lives weren’t difficult enough, ISIS militants now roam the hills — and seemed to come out of nowhere that fateful day. They asked her son to hand over his flock. It’s the family’s main source of livelihood and so he refused. ISIS retaliated.
His mother had no idea what was happening until her son, Braik, did not return home with his cousin one day. His cousin had the family’s sheep and was holding a plastic bag.
“I said ‘What is in the plastic bag?’ He told me there is a dead sheep in it. I asked him to give it to me. And he refused. He ran away with it,” Zahara said.
The reason was sinister and horrifying.
Inside the plastic bag was Braik’s severed head. ISIS militants had beheaded him.
Zahara’s remaining sons put their brother’s head in a refrigerator until they could get the body down from the mountain for a proper burial.
“They beheaded him and the sheep at the same time,” she said, “He was everything to me.”
Braik helped her do everything in the house because her eyesight is failing. Now he’s gone. The night it happened she spent pacing, wailing and hitting herself in the head, consumed by grief.
Before they killed him, the militants made Braik spew propaganda in a video. Their chilling message: This is what happens to spies who tell police where ISIS is hiding.
But his family says the reality is the militants are no better than common thieves and just wanted his sheep.
“I want to get rid of all of them. Look for them one by one. Because they hurt me so deeply,” Zahara said.
But that’s easier said than done.