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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Militants 'massacre 80 Yazidi men'

Published 16/08/2014 | 10:16

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Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community gather at a park near the Turkey-Iraq border

Islamic extremists in Iraq killed 80 Yazidi men and abducted their wives and children, eyewitnesses said today, insisting the religious community is still at risk after a week of US and Iraqi airstrikes on the militants.

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Airstrikes meanwhile targeted insurgents around Iraq's largest dam, which was captured by the Islamic State extremist group earlier this month. It was not immediately clear who carried out the strikes.

The US began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group a week ago, in part to prevent the massacre of tens of thousands of Yazidis stranded on a northern mountain top. After most were able to escape with the help of Kurdish fighters, President Barack Obama took credit for alleviating the threat of genocide.

But yesterday Islamic State fighters who had surrounded the nearby village of Kocho 12 days ago, demanding its Yazidi residents convert or die, moved in.

The militants took the men away in groups of a few dozen and shot them dead with assault rifles on the edge of the village, according to a wounded man who escaped by feigning death.

The fighters then walked among the bodies, finishing off any who appeared to still be alive with their pistols, the 42-year-old man said.

"They thought we were dead, and when they went away, we ran away. We hid in a valley until sundown, and then we fled to the mountains," he said.

A Yazidi lawmaker, a Kurdish security official and an Iraqi official from the nearby city of Sinjar gave similar accounts, saying Islamic State fighters had massacred scores of Yazidi men after seizing Kocho.

All said they based their information on the accounts of survivors and warned that the minority group remains in danger despite the US intervention.

Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said the Yazidis in Kocho were given the choice to convert or die. "When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place," he said.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, said the militants took women and children to the nearby city of Tal Afar, which is controlled by the Islamic State group.

Elsewhere in northern Iraq, residents living near the Mosul Dam said the area was being targeted by airstrikes.

The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on August 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. .

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled when the Islamic State group earlier this month captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border.

The plight of the Yazidis, tens of thousands of whom were stranded on a desert mountaintop for days, encircled by the Islamic extremists, prompted US and Iraqi forces to launch aid drops. It also contributed to the US decision to launch airstrikes against the militants, who were advancing on the Kurdish regional capital Irbil.

Most of those Yazidis were eventually able to escape to Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region with the help of Kurdish fighters, and on Thursday Mr Obama said Americans should be proud of the US efforts to save them.

But the Islamic State group remains in control of vast swaths of northeastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, and the scale of the humanitarian crisis prompted the UN to declare its highest level of emergency earlier this week.

Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting since the Islamic State group's rapid advance across northern and western Iraq began in June.

Press Association

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