Survivors have told how Islamic State militants are committing ethnic cleansing on a "historic scale" and threatened to wipe Iraq's ancient minorities off the map forever, according to a new report from Amnesty International.
The tales of bloodshed, torture and intimidation from survivors are limitless. Some described to the charity how men and boys were bundled into pick up trucks, taken to the outskirts of villages , forced to squat at the edge of hastily dug graves and shot execution-style. Others told how Yazidi women and girls were taken away from their families as slaves for the militias, threatened with rape.
Women and girls who recently managed to escape IS captivity told Amnesty they had witnessed forced marriages, with girls told that if they refused, they would be sold into sexual slavery. Survivors told the charity they had escaped before threats had been carried out.
A Yezidi woman tries to cook the meal in Zakho district, a few kilometers from the Iraqi-Turkish border
Though much reporting has concentrated on the persecution of Assyrian Christians and members of the Yezidi faith, who have been repeatedly threatened with execution if they do not convert to Islam, roving IS jihadists are also massacring other Muslims from different strands of the faith, who they consider to be heretics. They include Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a and many Arabs and Sunni Muslims who have opposed the Islamic State.
Salem, who managed to hide near the Kocho massacre site on august 15th, described to Amnesty the horror of hearing others who had been injured crying out in pain. Hewas later able to escape by donkey and rode to the mountains and then on into the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
“Some could not move and could not save themselves; they lay there in agony waiting to die. They died a horrible death. I managed to drag myself away and was saved by a Muslim neighbour; he risked his life to save me ... For 12 days he brought me food and water every night. I could not walk and had no hope of getting away and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him to continue to keep me there.”
Amnesty said the fate of thousands of people is still unknown, but it was working to locate them. Several hundred women and children who were abducted from Kocho on August 15th are currently held in Tal Afar - halfway between the mountainous region of Sinjar and the city of Mosul. Lawyer Mirze Ezdin gave Amnesty the name of 45 female relatives he believed were being held by Isis.
“Can you imagine these little ones in the hands of those criminals?" Ezdin told Amnesty. "Alina is barely three; she was abducted with her mother and her nine-month-old sister; and Rosalinda, five, was abducted with her mother and her three brothers aged eight to 12. We get news from some of them but others are missing and we don’t know if they are alive or dead or what has happened to them.”
Several Christian families told Amnesty they had been trapped in the town of Qaraqosh, but had finally been allowed safe passage to leave by IS fighters.
An Iraqi nun, left, speaks with a Christian man who fled with his family from Christian villages near Mosul
But for one mother, her ordeal was just beginning, when her three-year-old daughter Kristina was snatched from her arms. “One of the armed men took her from me and walked away with her in his arms. She was crying," the mother told Amnesty. "There was nothing I could do. I pray to God that they will release her soon and let her come back home. I cannot, sleep; all I can think of is my little girl.”
Khider, a 17-year-old student, who by chance survived the Kocho massacre said he and his cousin were lined up, face down on the ground.
"He was killed. He was the same age as me, and worked as a day labourer, mostly in construction. I have no news of what happened to my parents and my four brothers and six sisters. Did they kill them? Did they abduct them? I don’t know anything about them. After the IS armed men shot us I ran away, stopping to hide when I thought someone might see me or when I could not walk any more. I had to walk many hours to reach Mount Sinjar.”
“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non- Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims," Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who is currently in northern in Iraq, said. “The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq.
"The people of northern Iraq deserve to live free from persecution without fearing for their lives at every turn. Those ordering, carrying out, or assisting in these war crimes must be apprehended and brought to justice.”
One of the survivors of the Qiniyeh killings on August 3rd- Fawas Safel ‘Ammo - described how he was marched from his home by fighters intending to kill them. He said 28 male members of his family are still missing
"We stopped at a place where there was a big hole, by the wadi (valley); we were on the edge of the hole. They opened fire and some tried to run away. I let myself fall in the hole, and others fell on top of me. I stayed still. After the continuous fire stopped, IS militants fired individual shots, at those they saw were not yet dead. After they left - I don’t know how much time passed exactly - I got up and so did my friend Ezzedin Amin and we ran away. Neither of us were injured. We walked to the mountain and there we found three others who had also escaped alive from the massacre; they were injured, one very lightly and two more seriously.”