ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria: some people know the group as IS, or Islamic State, while others refer to it as ISIL – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The Washington Post reported that ISIS has dumped thousands of bodies in a huge desert sinkhole near Mosul, and it could be years before the full scale of the killings is known. Over the years there have been many horror stories about ISIS’s mass killings at this black hole of death in the desert.
— Asharq Al-Awsat Eng (@aawsat_eng) March 4, 2017
It was 2.5 years ago that ISIS took control of the Iraqi city, and since that time the 100-foot wide sinkhole has become a site for summary executions. Witnesses said that some residents were tossed into the sinkhole alive, while others were forced to line up at the edge of the hole and were shot before being pushed over the edge.
At other times they saw bodies being trucked in for dumping. Locals are fearful about speaking out publicly, but they whisper about the deaths at the sinkhole. It was only last month after Iraqi forces retook the area and closed in on the city, that the sheer enormity of the killings at the site started to emerge. Iraqi officials believe that, in recent years, thousands have perished at the sinkhole, or “Khasfa” as it’s known. Who knows how long it will be before this mass grave gives up all its secrets?
Excavation will be extremely complex because ISIS militants have now filled the sinkhole and booby-trapped it with explosives. Authorities are overwhelmed, and members of the Human Rights Commission in Iraq say they simply can’t provide figures on how many graves have been found to date. Associated Press stated last summer that they had documented 72 mass graves from ISIS atrocities in both Iraq and Syria, with as many as 15,000 bodies found, and more to be unearthed. However, they believe the khasfa is probably the group’s largest mass grave.
Muthanna Ahmed worked for five months near the site and witnessed summary executions.
“It’s swallowed the lives of thousands. It was terrifying, very deep and dark.”
Ahmed stated that victims’ shoes and dried blood lined the rim of the huge sinkhole, while decaying bodies caught up on the rugged edge of the hole were still visible. The sinkhole is located near an ISIS oil refinery, and the militants regularly rounded up Mosul workers and residents who were buying fuel to witness the execution-style killings.
— Iran (@Iran) February 27, 2017
Unfortunate victims included those accused of working with or spying on the Iraqi government and former army and police officers. Hussam al-Abar is a provincial council member, and he believes there could be anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 bodies in the sinkhole.
“Given the capacity of the central government and local government, I think it’s impossible to take out the bodies. We’d need international assistance. It would be impossible for Iraqis alone.”
In an interesting twist of fate, the sinkhole used to be a tourist attraction, attracting travelers from the main Mosul-Baghdad highway just over a mile away. But then Iraq became gripped in violence, and the former tourist attraction became an ISIS hole of death.
“It was known that whoever wanted to hide a body could drop it in this hole.”
Jassim Omar said he personally witnessed many executions at the khasfa. They began shortly after the city fell to the ISIS militants when 25 prisoners from Badush prison in Mosul were brought to the sinkhole and killed.
“If you want to scare someone from Mosul, just mention the khasfa.”
According to human rights groups, when the militants took over the city they killed hundreds of inmates from the prison. The murdered victims were Christians, Shiites, and Yazidis. However, many Sunni detainees were freed.
— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) January 16, 2016
Omar said the stench from the sinkhole could be smelled several miles away. In fact, it was probably the smell that led to the hole being filled in sometime in 2015, because many residents of nearby villages had either complained or left the area.
Residents witnessed ISIS pushing old cars, trailers, and shipping containers into the hole before using bulldozers to fill it with earth, while others confirmed that, as recently as six months ago, mass killings still continued at the site. Sadly, the khasfa claimed its latest victims just last week. With explosives planted around the site, a reporter for a Kurdish television channel died with a militia commander and four soldiers when they accidentally set off a booby trap.
The Telegraph reported that the Khasfa sinkhole, now the resting place of thousands of victims, is located five miles outside Mosul.
According to Iraqi police, human rights organizations, and local villagers, after the city was captured in 2014, ISIL killed and dumped the bodies of thousands of security personnel. Witnesses said that most victims were shot and dumped into the pit, while others died when their vehicles were driven over the edge. Mahmoud is a resident of the nearby village of Sananik who, for security reasons, declined to give his full name.
“Daesh would drive the victims to khasfa in convoys of minibusses, trucks, and pick-ups. The men had their hands bound and their eyes blindfolded. They were taken to the sinkhole and shot in the back of the head. The dead would either tumble into the hole after being shot or be tossed into it by their masked killers”.
— Edward (@DonKlericuzio) July 7, 2015
Mahmoud claimed that 2,000 soldiers and police officers were murdered in one day at khasfa. He also claimed that on four separate occasions he was forced to watch mass executions by the jihadists. On another occasion, he saw a bus full of Yazidi men, all bound and blindfolded, driven up to the edge of the sinkhole, then rolled in.
“In the beginning, you couldn’t see the corpses at the bottom of the hole. Only later, when it began to fill up could you see the bodies.”
As the horror continued, human rights researchers were monitoring the sinkhole via satellite and could see the hole filling up. However, by June 2015, the militants had filled the hole. Today, there’s very little left at the site, just a slight depression in the parched landscape; nothing to show the true horror that really lies beneath the surface.
[Featured Image by Felipe Dana/AP Images]