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‘Want to behead them’: Iraqi villager vows to avenge hostages killed by IS

The United Nations has said Islamic State militants had taken 550 families from villages around Mosul and were holding them near Islamic State locations in the city, probably as human shields.

world Updated: Oct 22, 2016 00:21 IST
Michael Georgy
Newly displaced people wait at a processing centre in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq October 21, 2016.
Newly displaced people wait at a processing centre in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq October 21, 2016. (REUTERS)

Sitting on a broken chair at a school where hundreds of families who fled Islamic State are seeking refuge south of Mosul, Younis Ali describes how he lost his four brothers and five sisters.

“I have learned that they tried to take one brother as a human shield,” he said, speaking of Islamic State, who ruled his village until last week.

“When he resisted they shot him dead. But another brother was also killed when he tried to prevent his death,” said Ali, 20, who was told of this tragedy by his mother.

“And then another brother tried to hug the one who was shot and the same thing happened and they were all shot dead.”

The jihadists didn’t stop there. They also kidnapped his five sisters.

This happened near Mosul, the last city stronghold of Islamic State that Iraqi forces want to take back with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.

Ali says he is a member of a tribal force that is supporting the government offensive on Mosul. His account confirms that Islamic State is resorting to the tactic dreaded most by the population, the attacking forces and humanitarian organizations: human shields.

Read | Islamic State leaders ‘abandon’ Mosul as Iraq forces close in

Iraqi special forces soldiers search a building located inside a church compound in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq October 21, 2016. (REUTERS)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, on Friday said Islamic State militants had taken 550 families from villages around Mosul and were holding them near Islamic State locations in the city, probably as human shields.

Ali isn’t spending much time these days thinking about whether the Mosul offensive would rid the country of Islamic State and eventually create unity among Iraqis split along sectarian lines, mainly Sunni and Shi’ites.

“All I want to do is find people from Daesh and behead them,” he said, using the Arabic acronym of Islamic State.

As he spoke, several veiled women told similar stories. Thaiban Sulaiman Ali recalled how her two brothers and two uncles and a total of ten people in her immediate family were taken hostage by Islamic State.

“Sixteen members of my extended family have been taken as human shields or hostages by Daesh,” she said.

“And they also blew up some of our homes.”

Read | Iraqi forces retake town east of Mosul from IS: Commander

Hundreds of people who have gathered at the school in Qayyara, a town under government control 60 km (40 miles) from Mosul, were being vetted by Iraqi security officials in case some were Islamic State fighters posing as non-combatants.

An Iraqi special forces soldiers waves an Iraqi flag from top of a church damaged by Islamic States fighters in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq, October 21. 2016. (REUTERS)

Suspects

Four such suspects were crouching down facing a wall with hands tied in plastic handcuffs behind their backs.

Others stood in the dirt and gravel trying to make sense of the chaos that has engulfed their lives.

Those who are cleared are taken to a camp for displaced persons about 20 minutes away by car.

Nearby is a sprawling abandoned building that local officials say was used as bomb factory by the militants who were in control of the region until August.

“Look around you at how many buildings they have blown up,” said local official Sameer Mohammed.

Read | Retaking Mosul: Iraq’s most complex anti-Islamic State operation

Iraqi officials say the battle for Mosul could make or break Iraq depending on how the country’s leaders manage sectarian tensions.

There are concerns the defeat of Islamic State, an ultra-hardline Sunni group, would cause new sectarian and ethnic violence, fuelled by a desire to avenge atrocities inflicted on minority groups.

An Iraqi army soldier stands guard over suspected Islamic State militants at a processing centre for displaced people in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq October 21, 2016. (REUTERS)

Nineveh is a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups - Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites - with Sunni Arabs the overwhelming majority.

Amra Ali is an example of how Islamic State engaged in hostage taking and kidnapping even before the Mosul battle began on Monday.

The 30-year-old housewife was detained by Islamic State four months ago because her husband is a member of a Shi’ite militia that has led the fight against the group.

“They told me when I was jailed in a house that was converted to a prison that they would hold me until my husband gives himself up,” said Ali who spent 40 days behind bars.

“When he didn’t surrender they took me to one of their Islamic courts and they declared us divorced.”

Kawthar Abdellatif, another housewife in her thirties, said even though Islamic State had left her village, al-Hudd, she does not want to return and will stay at the displaced persons camp.

“They can come back at any time and there are many bombs there,” she said. “I hope our lives will be better after Mosul is captured.”