Between 5,200 and 15,000 known victims are buried in some of the mass graves scattered across Iraq and Syria by Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists, the Associated Press (AP) has found through exclusive interviews, satellite photos, and research.
“Of the 72 mass graves documented by AP [so far], the smallest contains three bodies; the largest is believed to hold thousands, but no one knows for sure,” reports the news agency.
In just one grave in northern Iraq, more than 600 Shiite male inmates from the Badoush Prison in northern Iraq’s Mosul province are reportedly buried.
According to Human Rights Watch, one of 15 men who survived the massacre by playing dead, identified only as A.S., said:
I was number 43. I heard them say “615,” and then one ISIS guy said, “We’re going to eat well tonight.” A man behind us asked, “Are you ready?” Another person answered “Yes,” and began shooting at us with a machine-gun. Then they all started to shoot us from behind, going down the row.
The Islamic State, also known as IS, has committed genocide against various ethno-religious minority groups in the areas that it has captured in Iraq and Syria since 2014, including Yazidis, Assyrian Christians, and Shiite Turkmen.
In exclusive interviews, photos and research, The Associated Press has documented and mapped 72 of the mass graves, the most comprehensive survey so far, with many more expected to be uncovered as the Islamic State group’s territory shrinks. In Syria, AP has obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when ISIS extremists took over their region. For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead. In others, the estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, ISIS propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth. Still, even the known victims buried are staggering — from 5,200 to more than 15,000.
Some of the mass graves are concentrated in Yazidi territory in northern Iraq’s Sinjar mountain.
According to the AP:
Sinjar mountain is dotted with mass graves, some in territory clawed back from IS after the group’s onslaught against the Yazidi minority in August 2014; others in the deadly no man’s land that has yet to be secured
ISIS made no attempt to hide its atrocities. In fact it boasted of them. But proving what United Nations officials and others have described as an ongoing genocide — and prosecuting those behind it — will be complicated as the graves deteriorate.
AP obtained the satellite images from the intelligence firm AllSource Analysis.
“We see clear evidence of the intent to destroy the Yazidi people,” Naomi Kikoler, who recently visited the northern Iraq region for the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., told AP.
“There’s been virtually no effort to systematically document the crimes perpetrated, to preserve the evidence, and to ensure that mass graves are identified and protected,” she added.
“Nearly every area freed from ISIS control has unmasked new mass graves, like one found by the sports stadium in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Many of the graves themselves are easy enough to find, most covered with just a thin coating of earth,” wrote the AP.
“They don’t even try to hide their crimes,” Sirwan Jalal, the director of Iraqi Kurdistan’s agency in charge of mass graves said. “They are beheading them, shooting them, running them over in cars, all kinds of killing techniques, and they don’t even try to hide it.”