‘The attacks appear aimed at terrorising and forcibly displacing the community living in the area’ - Philip Luther
Amnesty International has obtained details of a horrific raid in which 15 civilians, including seven children, were summarily killed in a village in northern Syria on 29 May raising fears of further attacks against residents in the area.
The killings in the village of al-Tleiliye in al Hassake governorate are believed to have been carried out by members of the ISIS armed group (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham).
Arab farming families were targeted, apparently for their perceived support of a Kurdish armed group - the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) - or because they were mistaken for Yezidi Kurds. The killings took place shortly after clashes escalated between ISIS and YPG forces in the nearby villages of Tal Khanzeer and al-Rawiya.
Those killed were five men, three women and seven children from two families from a predominantly Arab farming community in the village of al-Sfeera in the Aleppo Countryside governorate working on land mainly owned by Kurds belonging to the Yezidi faith. Yezidis are regarded as infidels by ISIS and certain other armed groups, so most Yezidi Kurds fled the area after ISIS took control last year.
Sources in the area told Amnesty that, apart from the likely motive and the fact that ISIS operates there, they believe ISIS was responsible because of the clothing and behaviour of the perpetrators and the flag they were carrying. Fighting between ISIS and YPG is believed to have been sparked by a disagreement over the control of large amounts of grain stored in the village of Tell Halaf, which is under YPG control. On the same day that the killings took place, crops belonging to Yezidi Kurds in al-Tleiliye and its vicinity were set on fire.
An eyewitness who arrived in the village shortly after the killings described dreadful scenes to Amnesty:
“I entered a house and found two women lying dead on the floor. Between them lay a boy, probably aged six, also dead. I continued on my way and saw a man lying on the ground and next to him a pick-up vehicle turned into a bed. A woman was lying dead in there with three children; they all appeared to be under the age of ten ... I walked further and found two men lying dead on the ground … I continued walking and saw another man lying dead next to a wall of a house. He had been shot in the head. I walked further on and saw men placing four or five bodies in a car, including a girl who was probably seven or eight years old.”
A source at a hospital in Ras al ‘Ayn (called Serêkanîye in Kurdish) told Amnesty that the hospital received 15 bodies on the same day. Most of the victims had been shot in the head. Two injured survivors, both women, one of whom had been wounded in the chest and thigh, were also taken to the hospital.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:
“The attacks appear aimed at terrorising and forcibly displacing the community living in the area.
“Amnesty fears these civilians were killed as retribution for their perceived support of the YPG, either directly or indirectly through their Yezidi Kurdish landowners, or because they were mistaken for Yezidi Kurds.
“These cold-blooded killings serve as a bitter reminder of how complete impunity for the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria is fuelling brutality and inhumanity.”
Amnesty has been calling on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court so that war crimes such as those carried out in al-Tleiliye may be independently and impartially investigated, and the perpetrators identified and brought to justice. The organisation is also urging the government of Turkey to investigate individuals on its territory - including members of ISIS - suspected of committing or ordering war crimes in al-Tleiliye and elsewhere in Syria. Wherever there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators should be brought to justice in fair trials.
The Turkish government must also prevent the entry of fighters and arms flows to ISIS and to other armed groups committing serious violations of international humanitarian law in Syria. Amnesty also calls on Gulf states to publicly renounce the provision of financial or other support, including arms transfers to ISIS and other armed groups carrying out war crimes or grave human rights abuses in Syria.
Names of victims
Amnesty has received the names and ages of the 15 victims killed from a human rights organisation whose workers want to remain anonymous to protect its activists working on the ground. The victims comprise five men, three women and seven children.
The five men are Ahmed Mahmoud Joma’, aged 19; Hassan Mohammed Joma’, aged 22; Jassem Ibrahim Mohammed, age unknown; Mahmoud Joma’ Bin Haj Latfo, aged 60; and Mohammed Ibrahim al-Hassan, aged 35. The three women are ‘Aisha Hussein al-Hamdo, aged 25; Amina Mahmoud Joma’, aged 27; and Ghazaleh Hussein al-Hamdo, aged 20. The seven children are Asmaa’ Mohammed Hussein, aged 11; Hussein Mahmoud Hussein, aged three; Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim, aged seven; Khaled Mohammed Ibrahim, aged 11; Mohammed al-Hamdo, aged five; Mohammed Mahmoud Hussein, aged one; and Sahar Mohammed Ibrahim, aged 12.
Yezidism is a monotheistic religion linked to Zoroastrianism. Those belonging to this religion are a minority among the Kurdish ethnic minority in Syria. Its members feel at high risk of being targeted by ISIS and other armed groups because of their religious beliefs, which is why most have left their villages and moved elsewhere in Syria or sought refuge in other countries, according to interviews with Yezidis conducted by Amnesty in recent months.