Residents of Iraqi town tell of ISIS torture and executions

Civilians suspected of plotting rebellions were dragged off to makeshift jail and later shot dead or had throats slit

HAMMAM AL-ALIL (Iraq) • From behind the curtains of his bedroom window, Mr Riyad Ahmed would peer out at ISIS fighters dragging civilians into a makeshift jail across the street before sending them for execution.

The former English teacher from the town of Hammam al-Alil, south of the Islamists' Mosul stronghold, recalls hearing victims' cries of agony as he hid with dozens of neighbours in the shadow of one of the group's detention centres.

"The devil himself would be astounded by Daesh's methods of torture. It is beyond the imagination," said Mr Ahmed, 29, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

A displaced man welcoming a member of the Iraqi security forces on Sunday in the town of Hammam al-Alil, south of ISIS' Mosul stronghold.
A displaced man welcoming a member of the Iraqi security forces on Sunday in the town of Hammam al-Alil, south of ISIS' Mosul stronghold. PHOTO: REUTERS

Iraq's army and federal police, participating in a US-backed offensive launched last month to recapture the largest population centre under the militants' control, retook this area over the weekend.

An official yesterday said Iraqi Kurdish forces have also seized Bashiqa town near Mosul from ISIS, one of the final steps in securing the eastern approaches to Mosul.

Standing on the road between his house and the jail on Monday, Mr Ahmed told Reuters no part of Hammam al-Alil had been spared from the ultra-hardline Sunni Islamists' violence. In his street alone, he said, six people he knew had been executed, including his father and a family of three living next door.

Aid organisations, local officials and Mosul residents have cited reports that ISIS executed dozens of people in Hammam al-Alil and nearby barracks over the course of a week, on suspicion of planning rebellions in and around Mosul to aid the advancing troops.

Mr Abdul Rahman al-Waggaa, a member of the Nineveh provincial council, told Reuters last month that most of the victims were former police and army members.

ISIS used the town's agricultural college as "a killing field" for hundreds of people in the days before the Iraqi government advance, Mr Ahmed said. "They would torture them inside and then take them out of the neighbourhood and either shoot them or slit their throats."

Police backed up his account, but the road to the college was still lined with improvised explosive devices, preventing Reuters from visiting. The military said its forces at the complex found the decapitated corpses of at least 100 civilians.

The jail opposite Mr Ahmed's house was once home to an army officer who fled ISIS' blitz across a third of Iraq's territory in 2014. Its walls are covered in soot from a fire apparently set by fleeing fighters, but metal cages only slightly larger than an adult male are still intact.

Mr Ahmed, who learnt English when United States forces occupied Iraq for nine years after toppling late dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, was delighted to speak to a foreign reporter after two years during which he feared he would be killed for using English.

"We have been living in hell, like zombies," he said.

Residents in Hammam al-Alil told of how they packed into homes - with nearly 100 other people each - for days to avoid being taken by ISIS as human shields as the militants retreated to Mosul.

"They didn't know we were here. We didn't make a sound. No lights, no sound, no speaking at all," said Mr Ahmed.

Others were not so lucky. An engineering student, who gave his name as Mr Tariq, said he barricaded himself inside his home with dozens of neighbours for four days before ISIS fighters fled, refusing their demands to leave with them.

At one point, he said, the fighters donned army fatigues and tricked a few families into believing they were arriving Iraqi forces. When the civilians went out to greet them, Mr Tariq said, they were executed.

"Even a one-year-old baby, they put a bullet in his head."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Residents of Iraqi town tell of ISIS torture and executions'. Print Edition | Subscribe