US rights group finds ISIS execution site

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly showing ISIS militants executing dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location. -- PHOTO: AFP
An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly showing ISIS militants executing dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Human Rights Watch says fighters inspired by Al-Qaeda executed Iraqi soldiers en masse this month in Tikrit.

In mid-June, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted photos online of what they claimed to be the bodies of dozens of captured security forces members they had executed.

"Analysis of photographs and satellite imagery strongly indicates that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria conducted mass executions in Tikrit after seizing control of the city on June 11, 2014," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Thursday.

It suggested the death toll was between 160 and 190 men in at least two locations between June 11 and June 14.

ISIS had said it killed 1,700 Shi'ite soldiers in Tikrit, the hometown and past bastion of late Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

HRW acknowledged that the number of victims may well be much higher than the bodies it found, as it underscored the challenge accessing the area.

"The photos and satellite images from Tikrit provide strong evidence of a horrible war crime that needs further investigation," said HRW emergencies director Peter Bouckaert.

The rights group located two of the trenches filled with bodies by cross-checking against ground features and landmarks in the photographs released by ISIS.

It also checked the information against satellite imagery from last year and photographs from Tikrit taken earlier that had been made publicly available.

Two trenches were at the same location, just steps from what was once Saddam's Water Palace. A third trench could not be located.

"During an armed conflict, the murder of anyone not taking an active part in hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those in detention, is a war crime," HRW stressed.

"Murder, when systematic or widespread and committed as part of a deliberate policy of an organised group, can be a crime against humanity."

The rights group has previously documented other serious crimes by ISIS.

"ISIS is committing mass murder, and advertising it as well," Mr Bouckaert said. "They and other abusive forces should know that the eyes of Iraqis and the world are watching."