Syria's Raqqa still finding the dead, 2 years after IS fall

SARAH EL DEEB
1 / 9

Syria Digging Up The Dead

In this Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 photo, a first responders takes a break after removing a body at the site of a mass grave in Raqqa, Syria. First responders say they have pulled nearly 20 bodies out of the latest mass grave uncovered in Raqqa, the Syrian city that was the de facto capital of the Islamic State group. It is the 16th mass grave in the city, and officials are struggling with a lack of resources needed to document and one day identify the thousands of dead who have been dug out. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

RAQQA, Syria (AP) — The neighbors reported a foul smell coming from the house next door. The house, which the Islamic State group had used as a school for its "cubs," had been untouched ever since the militants were chased out of the Syrian city two years ago. Weeds grew around an abandoned car in its courtyard.

Even before the first responders felt the soft ground of the courtyard, they knew what was underneath: the latest mass grave in Raqqa, the former capital of the Islamic State group's self-declared "caliphate."

On the first day of digging, they pulled out two bodies. Within a few days, that was up to nearly 20, including women and children, who had been stacked up in holes in the courtyard garden.

The discovery, seen by Associated Press journalists over the weekend, was the 16th mass grave found in Raqqa since IS militants were driven out in the summer of 2017. Even as Raqqa's people gradually rebuild, the graves found in houses, parks, destroyed buildings are a grim reminder of the horrors perpetrated by the militants and the massive violence inflicted on the city to remove them.

During their rule, the extremists carried out mass killings, public beheadings and other atrocities. Women and men accused of adultery were stoned to death, while men believed to be gay were thrown from the tops of buildings and then pelted with stones.

More death came in the years-long aerial and ground campaign to liberate Raqqa, waged by Kurdish-led forces backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. The assault destroyed nearly 80% of Raqqa.

So far, 5,218 bodies have been exhumed from mass graves or from under the ruins of destroyed buildings around Raqqa, said Yasser Khamis, who leads the team of first responders. Of those, around 1,400 were IS fighters, distinguishable by their clothes and including some foreigners, he said. Of the remainder, 700 have been identified by their loved ones, mainly because they were the ones who buried the bodies.

Khamis said limited resources have slowed the search and made it difficult to determine the cause of death for most. But those killed have died in airstrikes, land mine explosions, mass killings or they were IS fighters or victims buried by the group. Some were recently exhumed with handcuffs.

The dead found in the latest grave were likely killed in the last days of the furious battles for Raqqa, buried in a rush during the fighting. The house is located in Raqqa's Bedouin District, scene of one of the last IS stands against the siege.

The house was built in a traditional Arab style, with a courtyard in the center surrounded by rooms. The outside walls were pockmarked with bullet holes. IS had used it as a school during its rule, and school notebooks and children desks were strewn around the rooms.

In the garden in the courtyard, diggers pulled a new body from the ground Saturday as an AP team visited the site. It had a uniform on it, sign of an IS fighter. Digging ended Monday, with a total of 19 bodies found, including three women and two children.

Ibrahim al-Mayel, a digger, said many of the bodies they had found had been piled roughly on top of each other in the ground.

Such house burials account for most of the city's mass graves as civilians buried their dead where they could, unable to go far as fighting intensified. Other graves in the same district — two in homes, two in gardens — have yielded 90 bodies.

At least two mass graves have been found in open areas in the city — a public park and a training compound— or on the city's edges, where fighters buried their own or people they killed. The grave in the park held at least 1,400 bodies, according to Khamis. His teams are still digging up bodies in a mass grave outside the city, where they found more than 700 so far.

"I expect that this Arab house is the last location within the city. We will then focus on the countryside," Khamis said of the latest discovery.

Raqqa was the seat of the militant's self-proclaimed caliphate, which at its height in 2014 stretched across a third of both Syria and Iraq. This year, the last village held by the group was retaken, in eastern Syria, though the militants are still present along the border and stage attacks.

In Syria's 8-year-old civil war, more than 100,000 people have been detained, abducted or gone missing, according to the U.N, most of them disappeared by the government. Tens of thousands have likely vanished into mass graves, many of them victims of IS. Khamis said his team has recorded 2,000 people missing from Raqqa, based on family reports. But he said the number doesn't reflect the full reality, since many families gave up on their missing, couldn't reach Khamis' team or moved to other areas.

His team only began collecting samples from bodies three months ago, hoping that new training and DNA technology would be available to help identify them. That means only 1,600 bodies of the 5,200 found had samples taken from them before reburial. "We need a lot more," he said.

In his offices in Raqqa, plastic bags carrying bone, teeth or hair samples were labelled and identified by location and number. International human rights groups say they are concerned local forensic groups are not getting the support, expertise and resources they need. Identifying the missing and preserving evidence for possible prosecutions is critical for Syria's future, they say.

"The worst thing I saw in my life at these graves is a man who comes looking for his child and can't find him," said Hwaidi Munawakh, one of the gravediggers.

He has worked on nine of Raqqa's mass graves. From one of them, he pulled out one of his cousins, a woman killed in an airstrike during the final battle for the city.

  • 'He's two-faced': Trump, mad at Trudeau, says he's leaving NATO summit early
    Yahoo News

    'He's two-faced': Trump, mad at Trudeau, says he's leaving NATO summit early

    President Trump on Wednesday showed his annoyance at Justin Trudeau after video surfaced of the Canadian prime minister apparently mocking him during a conversation with other world leaders at the NATO summit in London. The president then said he would skip the usual post-summit press conference and fly home early. “He's two-faced,” Trump said when asked about Trudeau and the video clip, which was taken at the NATO reception at Buckingham Palace Tuesday night.

  • Wanted Indian guru resurfaces to announce new cosmic country
    AFP

    Wanted Indian guru resurfaces to announce new cosmic country

    An Indian guru facing rape and sexual abuse charges made headlines Wednesday after he emerged from hiding and announced the birth of a new cosmic country with its own cabinet and golden passports. Swami Nithyananda, a controversial self-styled godman with thousands of followers in southern India's Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states, posted a video on his YouTube channel announcing the special project to his followers. 41-year-old Nithyananda announced that his country is called Kailaasa, and is the biggest Hindu nation without boundaries.

  • Activists apologize for use of Holocaust victims’ remains
    Associated Press

    Activists apologize for use of Holocaust victims’ remains

    An activist group has apologized to Jewish organizations outraged over their use of purported Holocaust victims' remains in an installation outside Germany's parliament building meant to draw attention to the perils of far-right extremism. The Center for Political Beauty, a Germany-based activist group known for provocative stunts, installed an urn outside the Reichtstag building on Monday, saying it contained victims' remains that it had unearthed from 23 locations near Nazi death and concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Ukraine. “We want to apologize especially to Jewish institutions, associations and individuals who see our work as disturbing or touching the peace of the dead according to Jewish religious law,” the group said on its website in a post late Wednesday.

  • Potential jurors in Elon Musk's defamation trial were dismissed because they follow him on Twitter
    Business Insider

    Potential jurors in Elon Musk's defamation trial were dismissed because they follow him on Twitter

    Elon Musk is currently on trial for alleged defamation against cave diver Vernon Unsworth. Musk called Unsworth "pedo guy" on Twitter after the diver criticized Musk's proposal to use a tiny submarine to rescue a Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave system. The trial started on Tuesday and had to exclude numerous potential jurors for a bizarre variety of reasons, including that two of them follow Musk on Twitter.

  • Conman sets up fake Russia border with Finland to trick migrants
    The Telegraph

    Conman sets up fake Russia border with Finland to trick migrants

    Border guards in Russia's north west last week arrested a man who had set up a bogus border outpost with Finland and taken thousands of euros from migrants for what they thought was a journey through the woods to the European Union. The man, who was only identified as a citizen of one of the former Soviet Union republics, put up border posts in the forest outside St Petersburg and charged four men from South Asia more than 10,000 euros (£8,400) for his services for smuggling them into neighbouring Finland, Russia's Border Guard Service said on Wednesday. Russia's 1,340-kilometer border with Finland mostly runs across sparsely populated areas in the forest, offering a relatively easy way for migrants to get into the European Union.

  • Harvard grad student workers go on strike, seeking $25 an hour minimum wage, other demands
    USA TODAY

    Harvard grad student workers go on strike, seeking $25 an hour minimum wage, other demands

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —  Slogging through snow showers and slush, hundreds of Harvard University graduate student workers picketed Tuesday at Harvard Yard, as thousands went on strike seeking higher pay and other demands. It marked the first strike of graduate students on the Ivy League campus since 1973, when teaching fellows and  protested the university's financial aid program. The strike threatened some of the university's educational operations before final exams.

  • The U.S. Army's Ultimate Weapon Isn't a New Gun or Tank
    The National Interest

    The U.S. Army's Ultimate Weapon Isn't a New Gun or Tank

    What if AI-enabled computer programs were able to instantly discern specifics regarding the threat such as location, weapons and affiliation by performing real-time analytics on drone feeds and other fast-moving sources of information, instantly sending crucial data to soldiers in combat? Operating in a matter of milliseconds, AI-empowered computer algorithms could bounce new information off vast databases of previously compiled data to make these distinctions--instantly informing soldiers caught in the crossfire. Much of this work centered upon near and far-term applications of AI is being done by the ARL's Cognition and Neuroergonomics Collaborative Technology Alliance.

  • The college admissions scandal ringleader tried to recruit 7 Stanford coaches to be part of the scheme but only one took the bait
    INSIDER

    The college admissions scandal ringleader tried to recruit 7 Stanford coaches to be part of the scheme but only one took the bait

    Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a letter to the university community that the ringleader of the college admissions scandal, William "Rick" Singer, approached seven coaches at the school about trading bribes for students' recruitments to the school at athletes. Tessier-Lavigne said an external review of the case revealed that only the school's former sailing coach, John Vandemoer, accepted Singer's deal. Vandemoer accepted $610,000 in bribes from Singer to facilitate the admission of students as sailing recruits.

  • Second evacuation in Texas city hit by explosion, chemical fire
    Reuters

    Second evacuation in Texas city hit by explosion, chemical fire

    Authorities on Thursday lifted a second evacuation in a week for thousands of residents of a Texas city after workers stopped leaks of cancer-causing chemicals at a petrochemical plant hit by explosions. Residents of Port Neches, Texas, a city of about 14,000 people 95 miles (153 km) east of Houston, were told to flee late on Wednesday after air monitors detected elevated levels of butane and butadiene, cancer-causing petrochemicals. Butadiene is the main product of the TPC Group's [TPCL.UL] facility in the city struck by last week's blaze and blast, which injured three workers and prompted a two-day evacuation.

  • FBI Failed to Inform FISA Court that Steele Dossier was Unreliable: Report
    National Review

    FBI Failed to Inform FISA Court that Steele Dossier was Unreliable: Report

    The Justice Department's inspector general has concluded that the FBI omitted crucial details in its requests for warrants to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page, saying the agency neglected to mention that some of the information the warrant applications were based on was shaky. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's yet unpublished draft report found that the FBI did not inform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the controversial Steele dossier, cited in applications to spy on Page, was unreliable, according to the Washington Post. The dossier was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele who was investigating Donald Trump for an opposition research firm hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign.

  • Israeli same-sex couples find legal loophole for marriage
    CBS News

    Israeli same-sex couples find legal loophole for marriage

    In our World of Weddings series, "CBS This Morning" is exploring the different ways people get married and celebrate their love around the globe. Seth Doane traveled to Tel Aviv where he met a same-sex couple who had to find a legal loophole to get their marriage recognized. Tel Aviv, Israel – Liran Buchny and Maor Shtern met almost a decade ago when they were serving in Israel's army.

  • US Rep. Denny Heck of Washington state to retire after term
    Associated Press

    US Rep. Denny Heck of Washington state to retire after term

    Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Washington state announced Wednesday that he is retiring from Congress at the end of his term, saying his work on the investigation into Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump have “rendered my soul weary. I will never understand how some of my colleagues, in many ways good people, could ignore or deny the president's unrelenting attack on a free press, his vicious character assassination of anyone who disagreed with him, and his demonstrably very distant relationship with the truth,” Heck said in a letter to his constituents.

  • 'In cold blood': Syria Kurds say killed, robbed by Turkey proxies
    AFP

    'In cold blood': Syria Kurds say killed, robbed by Turkey proxies

    Syrian Kurdish mother Shara Sido says the news came to her via a messaging application. Sitting inside a modest house in the de-facto Syrian Kurdish capital of Qamishli, the displaced 65-year-old scrolls through her phone to find a picture. Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies have overrun a swathe of northern Syria since October, after a deadly military campaign against Kurdish forces that caused tens of thousands to flee their homes.

  • Pearl Harbour shooting: two people killed after US sailor attacks base in Hawaii
    The Telegraph

    Pearl Harbour shooting: two people killed after US sailor attacks base in Hawaii

    Two people have been killed and one injured after a gunman opened fire before taking his own life at Pearl Harbour military base in Hawaii. The Pearl Harbour Naval Shipyard was locked down on Wednesday afternoon after the shooting which is believed to have started at 2.30pm local time (10.30pm GMT). The shooting took place at Dry Dock 2, near the south entrance of a combined US Air Force and Navy base about 8 miles (13 km) from Honolulu.

  • Warren Is Drafting U.S. Legislation to Reverse ‘Mega Mergers’
    Bloomberg

    Warren Is Drafting U.S. Legislation to Reverse ‘Mega Mergers’

    Warren's staff recently circulated a proposal for sweeping anti-monopoly legislation, which would deliver on a presidential campaign promise to check the power of Big Tech and other industries. According to a draft of the bill reviewed by Bloomberg, the proposal would expand antitrust law beyond the so-called consumer welfare standard, an approach that has driven antitrust policy since the 1970s. Warren's bill, tentatively titled the Anti-Monopoly and Competition Restoration Act, would also ban non-compete and no-poaching agreements for workers and protect the rights of gig economy workers, such as drivers for Uber Technologies Inc., to organize.

  • Missile Shield: Romania Now Has America's Aegis Ashore
    The National Interest

    Missile Shield: Romania Now Has America's Aegis Ashore

    Key point: Washington has wanted to expand NATO's anti-missile capabilities for a while now. A key NATO missile-defense site in Romania on Aug. 9, 2019 completed a three-month upgrade process that had forced operators to take the system offline. To fill the resulting gap in coverage, the U.S. Army in May 2019 deployed to Romania one of its seven Terminal High-Altitude Area-Defense missile-interceptor batteries.

  • Pakistan pulls back on prosecuting Chinese sex traffickers
    Yahoo News Video

    Pakistan pulls back on prosecuting Chinese sex traffickers

    Pakistan has declined to pursue a sprawling case against Chinese sex traffickers due to fears it would harm economic ties with Beijing, the AP reported on Wednesday. Pakistan has been seeking closer ties with China for years as Beijing continue to make major investments in the country's infrastructure.

  • Reuters

    UPDATE 1-Russia suspends revamp work at Iran's Fordow nuclear plant

    Russian state nuclear company Rosatom has suspended work on revamping a factory at Iran's Fordow nuclear complex due to an issue with uranium compatibility, Rosatom's nuclear fuel cycle unit TVEL said on Thursday. "Uranium enrichment and the production of stable isotopes cannot be carried out in the same room," TVEL said in a statement, adding that it was "technologically impossible" to implement the project at this time. In November, the United States said it would cease waiving punitive sanctions related to the Fordow plant from Dec. 15 - a move Russia condemned - after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment at the underground site in contravention of a nuclear deal it signed with world powers in 2015.

  • Trump impeachment news: Democrats release damning report accusing president of obstruction, as he has tense exchanges with world leaders at Nato summit
    The Independent

    Trump impeachment news: Democrats release damning report accusing president of obstruction, as he has tense exchanges with world leaders at Nato summit

    Donald Trump sparred with Emmanuel Macron during a televised bilateral meeting at the two-day Nato summit in London, as House investigators released an explosive report on the impeachment inquiry back home in Washington. It was a whirlwind news cycle during the president's visit to the UK: as Mr Trump met with world leaders overseas, House investigators released their report finding “a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election”. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the House had "overwhelming evidence of the president's misconduct" and suggested the president's actions posed "a threat to the integrity of the upcoming election" as Mr Triump meanwhile denounced the timing of the next phase of the process, arguing it has been scheduled to embarrass him.

  • Rep. Duncan Hunter Shows no Signs of Resigning Despite Pleading Guilty to Campaign Finance Charges
    National Review

    Rep. Duncan Hunter Shows no Signs of Resigning Despite Pleading Guilty to Campaign Finance Charges

    Representative Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) has not indicated that he will leave his seat in the House after he pleaded guilty on Wednesday to campaign finance violations. Hunter and his wife, who pleaded guilty to similar charges in June, were accused of using $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for family vacations to Hawaii, plane tickets for their pet rabbit, and other personal expenses.

  • Employee shot at a Virginia post office
    Yahoo News Video

    Employee shot at a Virginia post office

    Authorities say a postal worker has been shot at a northern Virginia post office by an agent for the Postal Service's Inspector General's office. News outlets report that it happened Wednesday morning at the parking lot of the Lovettsville post office in Loudoun County.

  • Associated Press

    'Disturbing' photo leads to suspensions in WV agency

    A photo of West Virginia corrections trainees was so disturbing that some employees have been suspended and the governor has ordered some to be fired — but what the image shows remains a mystery. The letter, sent by West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy to the agency's Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Wednesday, doesn't make clear what the image shows or how many employees have been suspended. Republican Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement Thursday condemning the photo and ordered the firing of those involved.

  • Millions of children exposed as flu spreads following vaccine delays
    The Telegraph

    Millions of children exposed as flu spreads following vaccine delays

    Millions of children are at risk of flu amid a drop in uptake of vaccinations, after deliveries were delayed, officials have warned. New figures show the number of people hospitalised because of flu has tripled in a fortnight, with the virus spreading before many of the most vulnerable have been protected. Last night health officials urged parents to come forward and ensure children receive vaccinations.

  • North Korea's Kim in new horse ride through winter snows
    AFP

    North Korea's Kim in new horse ride through winter snows

    North Korean media published fresh pictures Wednesday of leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse on a sacred mountain, imagery that experts say is heavy with symbolism and may indicate a policy announcement. The photos come as nuclear talks with the United States are stalled and with a looming end-of-year deadline set by North Korea for some kind of concession from Washington. Kim -- in a black leather trenchcoat he has worn recently to open a flagship construction project and supervise a weapons test -- was pictured leading a squad of riders in a white forest near Mount Paektu.

  • China Built The DF-26 Missile To Take Down America's Prized Aircraft Carriers
    The National Interest

    China Built The DF-26 Missile To Take Down America's Prized Aircraft Carriers

    Key point: Anti-ship missiles pose a growing threat to America's navy. The Chinese People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) commissioned the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) into service earlier this year in April. “The newly commissioned weaponry of the Rocket Force is Dongfeng-26 missile,” Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesman for China Ministry of National Defense, told reporters on April 26.