Gunmen with the group executed an estimated 600 inmates from Badoush Prison near Mosul, according to the report, which also notes that the majority of the victims were Shia Muslims. The ISIS militant group is largely made up of Sunni extremists.
“The gruesome details of ISIS’ mass murder of prison inmates make it impossible to deny the depravity of this extremist group,” said Human Rights Watch’s Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher with the organization. “People of every ethnicity and creed should condemn these horrific tactics, and press Iraqi and international authorities to bring those responsible to justice.”
The human rights group said the massacre amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity, mirroring words that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in August when he called the massacre at Badoush Prison one of many “horrific human rights violations.”
“Such cold-blooded, systematic and intentional killings of civilians, after singling them out for their religious affiliation may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Pillay said, urging that the international community holds the militant accountable according to law.
Thursday’s report marks the first time survivors of the incident talk about what transpired that day in the desert.
Eyewitnesses, speaking on video, tell of a systematic, brutal and targeted execution — a war crime of which there remains little evidence
According to one survivor, the massacre was set in motion when a man who was seemingly in charge of the group separated the prisoners by their different denominations of Islam:
He was sitting in a police car and calling out to us on a loudspeaker. He said, “the Sunnis must stand on one side. The Shia, Kurds and Yezidis must stand on the other. If I find out that a Shia is among the Sunnis, I’m going to cut off his head with a sheet of metal.”
An initial plan to behead the prisoners was ditched in favor of shooting them all with bullets:
One put his knife to an inmate’s neck, planning to cut his throat, but the other guy said, “There are too many and we’re not enough, so let’s kill them with bullets.” So he went to the first one and he fired several shots into his back. Then they opened fire on all of us.
The killing began when militants forced the inmates to announce their numbers, beginning with one and continuing well into the 600s:
They started by saying, “Each person raise his hand and say his number.” I was number 43. I heard them say “615,” and then one ISIS guy said, “We’re going to eat well tonight.” A man behind us asked, “Are you ready?” Another person answered “Yes,” and began shooting at us with a machine-gun. Then they all started to shoot us from behind, going down the row.
The prisoners kissed each other goodbye in the moments before the shooting:
Before they started shooting, I managed to kiss the men on each side of me, because we knew we were going to die. After we said goodbye to each other, I took my daughter’s picture and kissed it, and I prayed to God to save me for her, because I have no one else [to take care of her].
One survivor who was shot lived only because other bodies were piled on top of him:
A bullet hit my head and I fell to the ground, and that’s when I felt another bullet hit my arm. I was unconscious for about 5 minutes. One person was shot in the head, in the forehead, it [the bullet] went out the other side, and he fell on top of me.
Once the dead and gravely injured fell into a ravine, ISIS militants came to finish the job:
My face was down in the sand. I heard the footsteps of the ISIS guy, he was standing over me and he shot the man lying next to me in the head. He shot me too but the bullet hit my right forearm. I heard death gasps. I felt something coming under me. It was warm. It was the blood of my friend Haider. I took some of that blood and put it on my face and head so that if they came back they would think I am dead.
The massacre only stopped when the militants ran out of bullets:
“They were shouting, ‘This is how we serve justice!’ and, ‘This one’s alive, shoot him again!” witness F.S. said. “I got shot. Then I heard someone say, ‘Let’s leave, we’re out of bullets.’”
Another said the same:
I saw one body without a leg, another with his head blown apart. One man went up a nearby hill to see where ISIS was. One of their [ISIS’s] cars saw that guy so they turned around and came back. We fell back to the ground. They started to shoot at us again. Then one of the men from ISIS told the others, “Let’s leave. We’re out of ammunition.”
After the militants left, the survivors were forced to drink urine to avoid dying of thirst:
I took a few steps and fell to the ground because I was losing too much blood. I was with a group of 11 survivors. One was not shot and he helped me walk. We sat under a bridge. The man who helped me, he put his urine in a bottle. We all drank the urine. Otherwise we would have died of thirst.
Out of nearly 600, only 30 to 40 people survived.
Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser in Iraq, said in August that oftentimes the killings go both ways. Her organization gathered testimonies that pointed to dozens of revenge killings of Sunni detainees by government forces and Shia militias in at least three Iraqi cities.
“Those among the warring parties in Iraq who are committing war crimes should know that the impunity they currently enjoy won’t last forever,” she said. “They may one day be held accountable for their crimes.”
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