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UN Warns Islamic State About Crimes Against Humanity

FILE - Militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), raising their flag at an army base in Ninevah Province, Iraq.

The United Nations Security Council has warned the Islamic State extremist group that it could be held accountable for crimes against humanity for its persecution of minorities in Iraq.

The Sunni Muslim group took over huge swaths of northern and western Iraq in June, declared the formation a "caliphate" and killed or forced out minority groups in the regions it controls.

In a statement late Tuesday, the Security Council said the group poses a threat, not only to Iraq, but Syria, where it is also fighting, as well as to "regional peace, security, and stability."

The statement said "widespread or systematic attacks against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religion, or belief may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable."

Specifically, it raised the plight of Iraq's Yazidi community, which practices an ancient faith linked to Zoroastrianism. The Islamic State group last week said all Yazidis, whom it views as infidels, must convert to Islam or face death.

Thousands of Yazidis have since fled Iraq's Nineveh province and are now hiding from the Islamist group in the desolate Sinjar Mountains in northwestern Iraq, where they face starvation.

The Security Council condemned these attacks, as well as those against Christians and other minorities, "in the strongest terms." It called for Iraqi leaders to overcome political divisions and form an inclusive government that can deal with the country's challenges.

The statement also urged U.N. member states to implement sanctions and an arms embargo on the Islamic State and those with which it is associated.