Iraq has hanged 36 Islamic State militants convicted of involvement in the June 2014 massacre of hundreds of Iraqi military recruits near Tikrit, government officials said.
The victims, among thousands of unarmed Air Force recruits at Camp Speicher military base, were Shiites and non-Muslims who were tied up and driven from the camp. They were taken to multiple locations, shot and their bodies were dumped in trenches or rivers. Sunnis apparently were spared.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack and released video of some killings.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pledged to step up the execution of condemned militants after a bomb blast in Baghdad last month killed more than 300 people.
“The executions of 36 convicted over the Speicher crime were carried out this morning in Nasiriyah prison,” a spokesman for the governor’s office in Dhiqar told AFP. Abdelhassan Dawood said the governor, Yahya al-Nasseri, and Justice Minister Haidar al-Zamili oversaw the executions.
“Tens of relatives attended the executions,” said Dawood. “They shouted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), they were happy to see those people dead.”
Najla Shaab, whose husband was killed in the massacre, told AFP the execution was “a fair punishment for the worst crime.”
Islamic State propaganda video released after the attack showed hundreds of soldiers lined up and shot. Some faked their death and fled the scene that night.
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, investigated the “gruesome puzzle,” locating several burial sites.
“The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience,” Bouckaert said in a 2014 report.
The militants were arrested after Iraqi forces regained control of Tikrit from the Islamic State last year. The 36 militants were sentenced to death six months ago. Some had denied involvement, claiming they were no where near Tikrit when the attack took place but were forced to confess while being tortured.
The head of the provincial council told the Associated Press that some of the men executed Sunday had been tortured to extract confessions.
Some of them “were not even present at the scene of the crime,” Ahmed al-Karim said “We support the death penalty for those who committed crimes,” but “the use of violence and torture (in Iraqi prisons) should be investigated.”
Human Rights Watch is among groups that accused Iraq of “patently unfair” trials related to the case.
“The killing of hundreds of young cadets was a horrendous crime, and a fair trial for the accused is an important indicator of Iraq’s commitment to fix its justice system,” the group said. “The families of the massacre victims, and in fact all Iraqis, deserve a full account of what happened at Camp Speicher and who was responsible for these tragic deaths.”