Thursday 23 November 2017

Mosul hit by massacre of the innocents

Shocking scale of Isil atrocities revealed as Iraqi security forces close in on besieged city

Firefighters work at the site of an oil well fire in Qayara, 50km south of Mosul. The well was set alight by Isil militants to reduce visibility Photo: Marko Drobnjakovic/AP
Firefighters work at the site of an oil well fire in Qayara, 50km south of Mosul. The well was set alight by Isil militants to reduce visibility Photo: Marko Drobnjakovic/AP

Adam Schreck and Brian Rohan

New reports have emerged of public killings and other atrocities committed against Mosul residents by Isil militants, including dozens of civilians whose bullet-riddled bodies were hung from poles after they were accused of using mobile phones to leak information to Iraqi security forces.

The UN human rights office said Isil fighters killed some 70 civilians in Mosul last week, part of a litany of abuses to come to light in recent days, including torture, sexual exploitation of women and girls, and the use of child soldiers who were filmed executing civilians.

The revelations are the latest reports of Isil brutality as the group retreats into dense urban quarters of Iraq's second-largest city, forcing the population to go with them as human shields.

In its report, the UN human rights office in Geneva said Isil shot and killed 40 people last Tuesday after accusing them of "treason and collaboration," saying they communicated with Iraqi security forces by mobile phone. The bodies, dressed in orange jumpsuits, were hung from electricity poles.

A day later, the extremists reportedly gunned down 20 civilians at a military base. Their bodies were hung at traffic junctions in Mosul, with signs saying they "used phones to leak information".

A Mosul resident, reached by telephone, said crowds had watched the killings in horror. One victim was a former police colonel, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

The violence is part of a disturbing pattern. As the army advances, Isil militants have been rounding up thousands of people and killing those with suspected links to the security forces. Soldiers last week discovered a mass grave in the town of Hamam al-Alil, 20km south of Mosul, containing some 100 bodies.

At the same time, the militants have gone door to door in villages south of Mosul, ordering hundreds of residents to march at gunpoint into the city. Combat in Mosul's dense urban areas is expected to be heavy, and the presence of civilians will slow the army's advance as it seeks to avoid casualties.

Isil militants have boasted of the atrocities in grisly online photos and videos. The UN has urged authorities to collect evidence of Isil abuses of civilians to use in eventually prosecuting the militants in tribunals.

Iraqi troops are advancing from four fronts on Mosul, the last major Isil holdout in Iraq. As Iraqi special forces battle in eastern suburbs of Mosul, Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line north of the city, while Iraqi army and militarised police units approach from the south. Government-sanctioned Shiite militias are guarding western approaches.

In the formerly Isil-held town of Bashiqa, north-east of Mosul, Kurdish commander General Hamid Effendi said his forces were working to secure the area but faced booby traps that were holding up the advance.

More than a thousand unexploded bombs are believed to have been buried in Bashiqa, Gen Effendi said. Over 100 Isil fighters have been killed in combat, he added, but wounded fighters probably remained in defensive tunnels built by the militants.

On Friday, teams went building by building into the night detonating explosives left behind in Bashiqa, which was deserted except for a few residents trickling in to check on their homes and businesses.

Among them was 60-year-old Khan Amir Mohammed, who discovered that his home had been turned into a mortar post by the militants, who dug seven tunnels on his family's property before retreating.

Ammunition tubes and English-language instruction pamphlets for launching mortars littered the floor in one room. Another had been turned into a makeshift mosque, with lines taped to the floor for worshippers to line up to pray.

A nearby shop where Mr Mohammed sold animal feed had collapsed from an apparent air strike. "What can I say? I feel powerless," he said, surveying the destruction.

Down the road, Kurdish forces were detonating bombs left behind by the militants. First Sergeant Ayub Mustafa said his unit alone had disabled some 250 bombs, the vast majority homemade explosives. "Apparently they have a smart electrician with them. They're well-made," he said.

Special forces troops entered the Qadisiya neighbourhood on Friday, the 26th day of the campaign to retake Mosul, exchanging small arms and mortar fire with Isil positions and advancing slowly to avoid killing civilians and being surprised by suicide car bombers, said Brigadier General Haider Fadhil.

Regular army troops control 90pc of the Intisar neighbourhood, said one officer, but progress had slowed because "the streets are too narrow for our tanks". He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Meanwhile, the UN cited new evidence that the militants have used chemical weapons, escalating fears that Isil will resort to chemical warfare to try to hold on to the city, still home to more than a million people.

Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva that four people died from inhaling fumes after Isil shelled and set fires to the al-Mishrag sulfur gas factory in Mosul on October 23. She said reports indicated that Isil had stockpiled large amounts of ammonia and sulfur and placed them near civilians. "We can only speculate how they intend to use this," she said. "We are simply raising the alarm."

She also noted a video posted online by Isil last Wednesday showing four children, believed to be aged 10 to 14, gunning down four people accused of spying for Kurdish and Iraqi security forces.

The UN said about 48,000 people had fled Mosul since the government campaign began on October 17.

©Associated Press

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