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Massacre in Iraq villages

- Deaths of converted Yazidis spark killings

Baghdad, Aug. 16: The extremist gunmen had surrounded the village for more than a week, refusing to let residents leave and insisting that they convert to Islam.

A handful did, and when the village’s elders found out that they had abandoned the community’s Yazidi faith, they killed them.

That news enraged the fighters from the extremist Islamic State, “so they stormed the village and started killing its people”, said Hassan Khidr, a resident reached by telephone who managed to flee after the killings began.

The extent of the killings yesterday in Kocho, a small, isolated village near the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq, remained unclear tonight, although some residents and Iraqi officials said they believed that scores of people had died at the hands of the Islamic State.

The killings are likely to heighten international concern about the plight of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, tens of thousands of whose members have fled their homes and villages under the threat of attack from the Islamic State.

Khidr, who spoke by telephone from a hospital, said he had been detained by Islamic State fighters with other men inside a school when the killings began. He had played dead, he said, until he had an opportunity to flee, and saw a number of bodies as he was leaving.

A prominent member of a local Arab tribe told a similar story, saying Islamic State fighters had surrounded two Yazidi villages and given people there 10 days to convert to Islam. Residents of one village had managed to flee, said the man, who gave only his first name, Abdel-Rahman, because he feared retribution by the militants. “But the time ran out for Kocho, so the gunmen from the Islamist State stormed it and killed their men,” he said.

It remained unclear what had become of the village’s women and children. Khadr said he did not think they had been killed, but had been rounded up and taken somewhere else.

Elsewhere in northern Iraq, airstrikes hit near the insurgent-held city of Mosul early today, easing the mounting tension felt by the Kurdish forces trying to hold the Sunni militants at bay. The strikes landed near the Mosul Dam, which militants claimed more than a week ago, in addition to at least one other area in the hinterlands between militant and government control.

 
 
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