Kurdish forces uncover mass graves near northern Iraqi town

Two mass graves uncovered near Sinjar, town ruled by IS for more than a year

Kurdish peshmerga forces and fighters from the Yazidi minority, enter the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. Photograph: Safin hamed/AFP/Getty Images

Kurdish forces say they have uncovered two mass graves outside Sinjar, a northern Iraqi town that was ruled by Islamic State (IS) for more than a year before the extremists were driven out last week.

The first grave was west of the town’s centre near a technical institute and contained 78 elderly women’s bodies, said the Sinjar director of intelligence, Qasim Samir.

The second grave was uncovered about nine miles west of Sinjar and contained between 50 and 60 bodies of men, women and children, he said.

More precise information from the second grave is unavailable, Mr Samir said, because the surrounding area is thought to be rigged with homemade bombs, preventing investigation teams from reaching it.

Islamic State captured Sinjar during its rampage across northern Iraq in summer last year and killed and captured thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority, including women forced into sexual slavery. Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes pushed the extremist group out of the town in a two-day operation last week.

“These people [in the mass graves] were shot and buried during the Daesh invasion last year,” Mr Samir said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Sinjar was taken by IS militants in August last year after the fall of Mosul. During the same territorial push, IS advanced on Irbil, prompting the beginning of a US-led campaign of air strikes against the group, first in Iraq and later in Syria.

A security official with the Kurdish militia forces known as peshmerga confirmed the discovery of the mass graves.

“This is not a surprise,” the official said. “In other areas that have been taken back, we have found similar mass graves.”

In the nearby town of Snuny, the peshmerga uncovered seven mass graves after retaking the territory earlier this year, the peshmerga official said.

Nawaf Ashur, a resident of Sinjar who was forced to flee with his family last year, said the news of the mass graves has jarred the Yazidi community.

“Everyone who was missing a family member was hoping that they were still out there, that they are still alive and maybe they’ll come back,” he said. Thousands of Yezidis remain unaccounted for more than a year after IS took a number of majority Yezidi towns in Iraq’s north.

While hundreds of Yezidi women and girls have been released or escaped IS captivity, human rights groups estimate thousands remain in IS custody.