Radical jihadists ISIS have apparently ordered the genital mutilation of up to four million women and girls in its occupied city of Mosul in northern Iraq, the UN has said.
But some experts say the fatwa, circulated on Twitter, could be a hoax from activists opposed to ISIS.
Iraqi refugees who fled from Mosul
Translated, the text says: "Out of fear for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and our Islamic society, and the spread of immorality and vice between the sons and daughters of Allah.
“A resolution is issued to all states that female circumcision is honourable in itself and in the Caliphate.”
— COPTIC NATIONALISM (@DioscorusBoles) July 20, 2014
A spokesman of Mosul Police Ahmed Obaydi told Kurdish news agency BasNews: “[ISIS leader Abu Bakr] Baghdadi’s decision to have all women circumcised is, as he claims, to prevent immorality and promote Islamic attitudes among Muslims. The decision was made by Baghdadi as a ‘gift’ for people in Mosul.”
The "fatwa" issued by the militant group could affect 4 million women and girls, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, told reporters in Geneva.
"This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed," she said.
"This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists," she added.
In December 2012, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution calling for all member states to ban the practice, but it is still prevalent in many Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, in the belief it keeps women "pure" and prepares girls for marriage.
Around 8% of women in Iraq are believed to have undergone the mutilation, concentrated in the regions of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah according to UNICEF. Female genital mutilation has rarely been practiced in Iraq outside of the Kurdish community, which has a high rate of FGM. Kurdistan passed legislation against the practice in 2011.