In recent weeks, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has executed hundreds of civilians in the Tal Afar district of Iraq's Ninawa province, local officials told Diyaruna.
Tal Afar is under ISIS control and is fully besieged by the Iraqi army and popular mobilisation units. There have been reports of vicious infighting among ISIS fighters inside the town, many of whom fled there from nearby Mosul.
According to Iraqi media, chaos is rampant in the ranks of ISIS inside Tal Afar in the wake of an internal coup mounted by a number of influential senior leaders against their opponents within the group.
Meanwhile, "ISIS fighters have over the past weeks executed large numbers of civilians in Tal Afar", said local official Hassan al-Amin, who asked to use a pseudonym out of concern for the safety of his family, still trapped in the area.
"Information available to us indicates that the numbers of victims are estimated at hundreds, including women and children," al-Amin said.
"The group detained those victims after they failed to escape from ISIS's control," he told Diyaruna. "Some of those people were about to reach the security forces, which are positioned near the eastern part of town."
"Most of the victims are Turkmen, but they also include Arabs who live in villages in Tal Afar," he added.
Turkmen targeted for their resistance
Iraqi media reported that ISIS also executed the "last local leader" in Tal Afar.
According to local reports, ISIS had referred the victims to its so-called sharia court, which sentenced them to death for "deserting the land of the caliphate".
"Executions were carried out by shooting the victims to death," al-Amin said, adding that ISIS also tortured some by hanging them from electricity poles.
ISIS massacred 200 innocent people, young and old, in Tal Afar and in the surrounding al-Ayadiya and al-Mahlabiya districts, said Ninawa provincial council vice president Noureddine Kabalan, who is a leader within the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
The victims had been detained in the group’s prisons for attempting to escape from Tal Afar and seek safety with the Iraqi forces, he told Diyaruna.
"ISIS targeted the Turkmen community because of the stance it has taken against the group," he said, noting that thousands of Turkmen have taken up arms against ISIS on various battlefronts in support of the Iraqi forces.
"Turkmen have given more than 1,000 martyrs in battles to liberate cities from ISIS in all combat zones, and will continue to fight until the group is totally eradicated," he added.
Horrific acts of vengeance
These acts of inhumanity are part of an attempt by ISIS "to further tighten the noose on civilians and use them as human shields", al-Amin said.
The group had previously issued a fatwa authorising the killing of "anyone, regardless of age or nationality, who tries to flee the district", he said.
"These horrific massacres came in revenge for the heavy losses the group has suffered in liberation battles in Mosul's Old City," he added.
In a July 7th statement, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights reported that "200 civilians in al-Qadisiya neighbourhood in Tal Afar have been executed by ISIS elements for trying to escape from town during Eid al-Fitr".
"ISIS elements hanged 17 bodies from electricity poles near the police directorate and eastern gate of town in a stark violation of all international human rights standards," the Observatory said.
Kabalan expressed his strong condemnation of the massacre, which he said had come in retaliation for the heroism of the people of Tal Afar who rejected ISIS.
He called on the UN and local and international human rights organisations to document the crime, and also called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi, as the commander in chief of the armed forces, to expedite the liberation of the city.
Demands for expedited liberation
The Observatory also urged the Iraqi government to prevent further violations against civilians in the town, where an estimated 100,000 are still trapped.
Before ISIS seized control of Tal Afar in August 2014, the town had an estimated population of around 200,000, AFP reported.
Turkmen MP Mohammad Taqi said Iraqi forces will fully liberate Tal Afar from ISIS, and that both Sunni and Shia residents will jointly take part in its liberation "in a display of patriotism and fraternity".
Political analyst Ziad al-Arrar told Diyaruna that Tal Afar has been under siege from all sides for some time, which will make the battle there easier to fight than some of the others, in spite of the anticipated resistance.
The most important issue in the battle for Tal Afar, he said, will be holding the territory after its liberation and re-establishing order there.