Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi paramilitaries fighting alongside Baghdad government forces to liberate the city of Mosul from Islamic State extremists say they have found a mass grave at a prison containing the remains of hundreds of people executed by the jihadists in 2014.
The discovery Saturday came three days after the Kurdish news agency Rudaw first reported the capture of Badush prison by an Iraqi armored division and fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi militia. The prison is about 10 kilometers northwest of Mosul.
The slaughter of an estimated 600 prisoners at Badush on June 10, 2014, was documented by Human Rights Watch and exposed to the world in a searing report published four months later, based on survivors' and witnesses' accounts.
Guards abandoned prison
Islamic State fighters entered the prison the same day they captured Mosul, the report said, and found Iraqi guards had abandoned the site, leaving all the inmates locked in their cells. The extremists herded about 1,500 prisoners onto trucks that took them about two kilometers to a remote part of the surrounding desert.
Witnesses said squads of IS gunmen separated several hundred Sunni Muslims and Christians from the larger group and sent them to another location.
The prisoners who remained were then marched to the edge of a desert ravine, told to kneel and given numbers. Each man was ordered to read his number aloud. Executioners standing some distance behind them then opened fire with machine guns and automatic weapons.
Most were killed immediately but several dozen men tumbled into the ravine still alive. They managed to survive when they were shielded by the bodies of other victims falling on them, Human Rights Watch reported.
One gravely wounded survivor said the shooting stopped only when the Islamic State gunmen ran out of ammunition.
Islamic State caliphate
Islamic State seized large swaths of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014, with plans to establish a caliphate with the Syrian city of Raqqa as its headquarters.
Iraqi and Kurdish fighters launched a counteroffensive earlier this year aimed at taking back control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, while a loosely knit alliance of anti-jihadists in Syria is preparing to march on Raqqa later this year.
Iraqi government forces dislodged IS fighters from eastern Mosul in January, and on February 19 launched an offensive to retake districts west of the Tigris River.
The offensive has displaced tens of thousands of civilians and has faced stiff IS resistance. Days of heavy rain also slowed the government advance.
State television Friday said about half of western Mosul had been recaptured. It said the remaining jihadists were holed up in the center of Mosul's old city and in districts north of the city.