QAYYARAH (Iraq)• • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has killed at least 232 people as it herds tens of thousands into Mosul for use as human shields against advancing Iraqi forces, the United Nations has said.
Thousands have fled in the other direction, prompting a warning of "massive displacement" when fighting inside the Islamists' last urban stronghold begins.
The UN human rights office said yesterday that ISIS had reportedly shot dead at least 232 people in a single day on Wednesday and killed another 24 the previous day.
Spokesman Ravina Shamdasani said the execution-style killings came as ISIS pushed forward with a strategy of forcing people living outside Mosul into the city.
Nearly 8,000 families, of roughly six people each, were abducted in sub-districts, she said.
Those executed, she noted, included civilians who had refused to comply with the relocation orders and those who previously worked for the government security services.
The killings, which the UN rights office said have been "corroborated to the extent possible", are just the latest in a long line of atrocities committed by the militants since they overran swathes of Iraq in 2014.
ISIS has carried out mass executions, bombed civilian targets, including markets and mosques, and perpetrated a campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape targeting members of the Yazidi religious minority.
As Iraqi forces closed in on Mosul from the north, east and south, growing numbers of civilians have fled ISIS-held areas and the impending fighting in territory the radicals control.
The International Organisation for Migration said that as of Thursday, 15,804 people had been displaced since the operation began on Oct 17, the vast majority in the Mosul region.
"We have seen... quite a dramatic increase in the numbers in the last few days, and they are now going into the newly set up camps," said Mr Karl Schembri, regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
"This is already worrying because they (Iraqi forces) haven't yet entered the city... When that happens, it is going to be quite massive displacement," he said.
The potential for a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of civilians are forced into camps with winter looming is just one of a raft of issues that have complicated military planning for the recapture of Mosul.
Washington estimates that there are between 3,500 and 5,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul and as many as 2,000 more in the wider area.
ISIS still controls a corridor of territory west of Mosul linking it with the Syrian part of the caliphate it declared in 2014.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS