BAGHDAD: The Islamic militant group that swept across northern Iraq and captured two major cities last week has posted graphic photos that appear to show its fighters massacring dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers.
The pictures on a militant website appear to show masked fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs.
The final images show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot.
The grisly images could further sharpen sectarian tensions as hundreds of Shiites heed a call from their most revered spiritual leader to take up arms against the Sunni militants that have swept across the north. ISIS has vowed to take the battle to Baghdad and cities further south housing revered Shiite shrines.
The captions of the photos say the killings were to avenge the killing of an ISIS commander, Abdul-Rahman al-Beilawy, whose death was reported by both the government and ISIS shortly before the Al-Qaeda splinter group’s lightning offensive, which has plunged Iraq into its bloodiest crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.
“This is the fate that awaits the Shiites sent by Nouri to fight the Sunnis,” one caption read, apparently referring to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraq’s top military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the photos’ authenticity and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIS.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned Friday of “murder of all kinds” and other war crimes in Iraq, and said the number killed in recent days may run into the hundreds, while the wounded could approach 1,000.
Speaking in Geneva, she said her office has received reports that militants rounded up and killed Iraqi soldiers as well as 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul.
Her office also heard of “summary executions and extrajudicial killings” after the ISIS militants overran Iraqi cities and towns, the statement said.
Most of the soldiers who appear in the pictures are in civilian clothes. Some are shown wearing military uniforms underneath, indicating they may have hastily disguised themselves as civilians to try to escape.
Many soldiers and policemen left their uniforms and equipment behind as the militants swept into Mosul, Tikrit and surrounding areas.
The captions did not provide a date or location, but Moussawi said the killings took place in Salaheddin province, the capital of which is Tikrit. Some of the pictures appeared to show some of the soldiers pleading for their lives, others seemed terrified.