BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court Wednesday sentenced 24 men to hang over the June 2014 massacre by jihadis and allied militants of hundreds of mostly Shiite military recruits in Tikrit.
The central criminal court in Baghdad handed 24 of 28 defendants the maximum sentence over the "Speicher" massacre, named after the base from which the victims were captured before being executed.
"After deliberations, the court finds that the evidence collected is sufficient to convict 24 defendants," said the judge. "The court decided they will be executed by hanging."
All 24 denied any involvement in the massacre, committed during the first days of ISIS' broad offensive in Iraq.
The other four defendants were acquitted.
Around 600 bodies of victims have been exhumed from burial sites in the Tikrit area. Footage released by ISIS last year shows some of the captured recruits were shot and pushed into the Tigris river.
The defendants were brought into the courtroom blindfolded, handcuffed and chained by their feet.
Proceedings were conducted expeditiously.
Relatives of some of the Speicher massacre victims were heard by the court asking that the perpetrators of what is one of ISIS' worst atrocities be punished.
A court-appointed defense lawyer spoke briefly to ask for leniency but did not challenge the evidence, which consisted mainly of confessions that the defendants themselves claimed were obtained under torture.
The judge showed one defendant a grainy printout of a grab from the video footage of the massacre.
"Is that you?," he asked. The accused answered negatively, as did several fellow defendants when the judge flashed confession documents and asked them to confirm their authenticity.
Some defendants swore they were not even close to Tikrit on June 11 last year, others that they never saw a lawyer.
According to rights watchdog Amnesty International, Iraq executed at least 61 people in 2014, ranking fourth among countries carrying out the most executions after China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Combined with a call by the country's top Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for Iraqis to take up arms against them, the Speicher massacre played a key role in the mass recruitment of Shiite volunteers to fight the jihadis.
One of the spots where the Speicher cadets were executed is a police building in the sprawling Tikrit palace complex former president Saddam Hussein built in his hometown.
The quay where the victims were shot in the head and pushed into the Tigris has, since Tikrit was retaken, been turned into an improvised shrine.
Relatives, many of whom may never have a body to bury, have streamed to the site over the past two months along with fighters, delegations of officials, students and others.