Syrian Troops Discover Mass Grave In Ancient Palmyra

Syrian troops have uncovered a mass grave in Palmyra, one of the many signs of terror and destruction in the city that was under Islamic State control for almost a year. The city may never recover completely, and until the conflict ends, the native population that fled will most likely stay away.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the ancient city of Palmyra was captured by ISIS forces in May last year, putting its population and numerous archaeological treasures at risk. They destroyed temples and relics, but what Syrian forces recently discovered is arguably far more disturbing.

The Islamic State was an important topic in the latest Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. If the terrorist group ever got ahold of nuclear materials, it could spell disaster for Western countries. [Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images]
The Islamic State was an important topic in the latest Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. If the terrorist group ever got ahold of nuclear materials, it could spell disaster for Western countries. [Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images]

The mass grave included 42 to 45 people (news sources vary). A military source says the victims included “officers, soldiers, members of the popular committees (pro-regime militia) and their relatives.” The source, who did not want to be named, told the AFP that there were 24 civilians in the group, three of whom were children. State media sources say there were “many women and children” according to the Huffington Post.

The people in the mass grave were executed either by gunshot or by beheading.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been monitoring the situation on the ground for many years, reported that IS forces killed many people in the early days of the occupation and buried them in the city’s outskirts. They estimate that the terror organization executed over 280 people. IS propaganda appears to confirm some of that bloodshed. The militants used an ancient Roman theater in Palmyra to execute 25 soldiers, which they filmed and posted online.

Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, recaptured the Palmyra on March 27 according to CNN. The government and others are now assessing the full damage. KPBS reports that journalists from the AP were allowed in on Friday, discovering the ancient city was “completely deserted,” which is probably for the best.

IS forces left behind mines in addition to mass graves.

One Syrian troop said, “They booby-trapped everything, trees, doors, animals.”

As for the archaeological sites, the damage is “visible elsewhere.” Some of the best preserved Roman artifacts and buildings remaining in the world are now reduced to stones.

The triumphal Roman arch in Palmyra well before terrorist forces started dynamiting historical sites. Archaeologists are now mulling how to restore the ancient city. [Photo by Spencer Arnold/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
The triumphal Roman arch in Palmyra well before terrorist forces started dynamiting historical sites. Archaeologists are now mulling how to restore the ancient city. [Photo by Spencer Arnold/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP it would take a long time for people to return.

“People fear reprisal by the regime, and also the mines planted all over the city by IS. In addition, many houses were flattened by Russian air strikes before Palmyra was reclaimed.”

In the wake of the mass grave discovery, the Pentagon released a statement, saying that IS leader Baghdadi would “taste justice.”

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“Just like we found his mentor, (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi and killed him. Just like we found the grand master of terrorism, Osama bin Laden, we killed him. We are going to find Baghdadi, and he will taste justice.”

Syria has said that by taking Palmyra, it could extend its operations against the terrorist organization to the east and start hitting the unofficial jihadist capital of Raqa.

On Saturday, the troops started attacking the IS-held city of Sukhna. If they can secure that city, it will tighten their grip on Palmyra.

In the meantime, the U.S. is considering sending more special forces into the conflict. Currently, there are about 50 contingent U.S. forces. One unnamed official said, “Presumably they would do more of what they’re already doing.”

Palmyra’s mass grave is likely not the last Syrian forces will find; as the push continues, more horrific stories are inevitable.

[Image via James Gordon/Wikimedia Commons]