An ISIS fighter approached a Christian woman two weeks ago and lifted the 3-year-old child from her arms. Little Kristina wailed as she was taken out of sight of her mother; she has not been seen since.
This heartless crime, carried out in northern Iraq, is just the latest act in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing which is being carried out on an historic scale by the so-called Islamic State, according to a report by Amnesty International.
The human rights organization says thousands of women and children have been abducted, while men and boys over the age of 12 have been massacred, in a calculated campaign to drive non-Muslims out of the area. “It’s a clear-cut case of ethnic cleansing,” Donatella Rovera, author of the Amnesty report, told The Daily Beast. “I can see it happening in front of my eyes very quickly.”
Amnesty has spoken to hundreds of survivors some of whom watched family members and neighbors lined up along the edge of mass graves and shot dead, execution-style. In two of the killings, detailed in the report, up to 90 civilians were shot in the back after being separated from their wives and children and made to kneel before their killers. The massacres took place in areas where the Yazidi community had refused to flee and stood up to defend themselves against ISIS.
“Their relatives and their community were made to pay a very heavy price,” said Rovera. “There is a double aim for that particular level of brutality, which is to punish those who tried to resist and to set an example. The propaganda has worked if you look at large areas of the country where they have been able to take over—they really haven’t had to fight for it at all they were pretty much able to walk in unopposed.”
If the most brazen acts of mass murder were a threat and a warning to the Yazidi and potential pockets of resistance elsewhere in Iraq, there was no apparent motive for the abduction of Kristina. Her mother told Amnesty: “One of the armed men took her from me and walked away with her in his arms. She was crying. There was nothing I could do. I pray to God that they will release her soon and let her come back home. I cannot sleep; all I can think of is my little girl.”
Mirze Ezdin, a lawyer, is another of those desperately awaiting news of his missing family. Forty-five relatives, all women and children, were taken by ISIS fighters in Qiniyeh. Holding up a picture of two of his nieces, he said: “Can you imagine these little ones in the hands of those criminals? Alina is barely 3... We don’t know if they are alive or dead or what has happened to them.”
Those criminals took their killing spree to tiny Kocho just south of Sinjar on August 15. A group of Yazidi had been trapped by fighting in the village, which has a population of 1,200. ISIS fighters told the residents to gather at the local high school where they took their phones, jewelry and cash. They were separated into groups of men, women, and children. The men were packed into vehicles, taken out a short distance and shot.
Not everyone was killed in the haphazard mass executions. Eight survivors from a group of about 100 lived to tell their story. One of those was Elias Salah, 59, a nurse. He was shot but did not receive a fatal wound. “They got us off the vehicle and made us crouch on the ground in a tight cluster and one of them photographed us. I thought then they’d let us go after that, but they opened fire at us from behind. I was hit in the left knee, but the bullet only grazed my knee. I let myself fall forward, as if I were dead, and I stayed there face down without moving. When the shooting stopped I kept still and after they left, I ran away,” he said.
“I don’t know who the others were; I was too scared to look around, I couldn’t focus. I don’t know what happened to my family, my wife, my seven children, my son’s wife and their two children; I don’t know if they are dead or alive or where they are. I only now learned from one of the survivors from another group that my brother Amin and his 10-year-old son Asem were both killed, God bless them.”