Headless bodies found in mass grave near Mosul

Members of an Iraqi special forces police unit tearing up a signboard of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria south of Mosul on Tuesday, after government forces captured the area in the ongoing 
operation to retake the city.
Members of an Iraqi special forces police unit tearing up a signboard of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria south of Mosul on Tuesday, after government forces captured the area in the ongoing operation to retake the city. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISIS militants fighting to hold onto stronghold continue to terrorise residents

HAMAM AL-ALIL • Iraqi investigators have carried out an initial examination of a mass grave site discovered in an area south of Mosul that was recently retaken from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The investigators, some of whom wore face masks because of the smell, took notes at the site as their work began on Tuesday.

"Today, the team conducted an initial examination," said Mr Mohammed Taher al-Tamimi, an official from an Iraqi Cabinet office that he said is coordinating and supporting efforts to investigate the area.

Iraqi security forces announced the discovery of the site in the Hamam al-Alil area on Monday, after retaking it as part of the operation to recapture Mosul, the last Iraqi ISIS-held city.

Men in Iraqi security forces uniforms used ropes to pull two bodies, one of them headless, from the grave, and also removed a decapitated head, but were later told to return them to their original locations.

Mr Tamimi described the killings at the site as a "massacre", and said the victims had been blindfolded and had their hands and feet bound.

Some bodies were missing their heads, while those of others had been broken into pieces, he said.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said on Monday that 100 headless bodies had been found - an assertion contradicted by Mr Tamimi.

"From what we saw today, I believe that there are around 25 bodies visible. But this does not mean that this is the total number. We believe that there are very large numbers there," he said.

Mr Dhiyab Tareq, a 32-year-old from the area, said he had heard shots when ISIS carried out executions at the site, adding that the following day ISIS members boasted about killing members of the security forces.

Meanwhile, ISIS militants fighting to hold on to their Mosul stronghold have displayed the crucified bodies of five people who they said gave information to "the enemy", and are back on the city streets policing the length of men's beards, residents said.

The five bodies were put on display at a road junction, a clear message to the city's remaining 1.5 million residents that the ultra-hardline Islamists are still in charge, despite losing territory to the east.

Thousands of ISIS fighters have run Mosul, the largest city under their control in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, since they conquered large parts of northern Iraq in 2014.

They are now battling a 100,000-strong coalition that includes Iraqi troops, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga and mainly Shi'ite paramilitary groups. The coalition has almost surrounded the city and has broken into eastern neighbourhoods.

Residents contacted by telephone on Tuesday said many parts of the city were calmer than they had been for days, allowing people to venture out to seek food, even in areas which have seen heavy fighting over the last week.

"I saw some of the Hisba elements of Daesh checking people's beards and clothes and looking for smokers," said a resident. ISIS is also known as Daesh. Hisba is a morality police unit which imposes the ISIS interpretation of Islamic behaviour. It forbids smoking, says women should be veiled and wear gloves, and bans men from Western-style dress, including jeans and logos.

"It looks like they want to prove their presence after they disappeared for the last 10 days, especially on the eastern bank," the resident said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Headless bodies found in mass grave near Mosul'. Print Edition | Subscribe