IRBIL, Iraq: Airstrikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month, as reports emerged of the massacre of some 80 members of the Yezidi religious minority by Islamic extremists.
Residents living near the Mosul Dam toldthe Associated Press that the area was being targeted in airstrikes, but it was not immediately clear whether they were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week began launching airstrikes aimed at halting the advance of ISIS across the country's north.
The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.
A Yezidi lawmaker and a Kurdish security official meanwhile said ISIS massacred scores of Yezidi men Friday afternoon after seizing the village of Kocho. Both said they based their information on the accounts of survivors and warned that the minority group remains in danger despite U.S. aid drops and airstrikes launched to protect them.
ISIS fighters besieged the village for several days and gave its Yezidi residents a deadline to convert to Islam, Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said Saturday.
"When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place," he said.
Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, said Friday night that the militants took the women and children of Kocho to the nearby city of Tal Afar, which is controlled by the Islamic State group.
Kocho, like other areas held by the extremist group, is not accessible to journalists.
Tens of thousands of Yezidis fled when ISIS earlier this month captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The Yezidis practice an ancient religion that the Sunni radicals consider heretical.
The plight of the Yezidis, tens of thousands of whom were stranded on a desert mountaintop for days, encircled by the Islamic extremists, prompted the U.S. to launch aid lifts as well as airstrikes to help Kurdish fighters get them to safety.
Most of the Yezidis were eventually able to escape to Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region. Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting since ISIS' rapid advance across northern and western Iraq began in June.
The decision to launch airstrikes marked the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last troops withdrew in 2011, and reflected growing international concern about the extremist group, which has carved out a self-styled Islamic state in large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
On Saturday, Britain's Defense Ministry said it deployed a U.S.-made spy plane over northern Iraq to monitor the humanitarian crisis and movements of Islamic State militants. It said the converted Boeing KC-135 tanker, called a Rivet Joint, would monitor mobile phone calls and other communication.
Two British planes also landed Saturday in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil carrying humanitarian supplies.
Khalil, the Yezidi lawmaker, said the U.S. must do more to protect those fleeing ISIS.
"We have been calling on the U.S. administration and Iraqi government to intervene and help the innocent people, but it seems that nobody is listening," Khalil said.