Iraqi authorities say the military coalition pressing a huge offensive against Islamic State extremists near the northern city of Mosul have uncovered a mass grave containing at least 100 decapitated bodies.
Initial reports Monday from Western and Kurdish journalists say the dead are believed to be civilians.
A spokesman for Iraqi federal police said the bodies were discovered at an agriculture college outside the town of Hammam al-Alil, 15 kilometers south of Mosul's center. Police said medical specialists were deployed to the scene to probe the massacre and try to identify the bodies.
Islamic State fighters have controlled Mosul and its outlying towns and villages for more than two years, and civilians who have recently escaped have described repeated incidents of mass executions by the extremists.
In a separate statement Monday, Iraqi authorities said coalition forces pushing toward Mosul from the east liberated five more villages, while a nearby armored division entered Mosul's eastern neighborhoods. The location of the Iraqi division was not disclosed by late Monday, and it was not clear whether the armored force remained in the city or withdrew.
The long-awaited Mosul offensive was launched October 17 by a coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by Shiite militia, Sunni Arab tribesmen and U.S.-led airstrikes.
Coalition progress toward encircling the embattled city has been hampered by concrete barricades and roadside bombs deployed by IS fighters seeking to slow the coalition advance. Observers say airstrikes accompanying the push toward the city also have been curtailed to protect civilians attempting to survive in a dense urban setting while at close quarters with extremists.
Earlier Monday, Iraqi Kurdish elements of the coalition force launched an offensive to capture the town of Bashiqa, 13 kilometers northeast of Mosul.
Kurdish peshmerga forces had surrounded the town for weeks ahead of the assault, and Peshmerga Lt. Col. Safeen Rasoon told Reuters that an estimated "100 IS fighters are inside" Bashiqa.