Terrorists from the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive in the north, Iraq's human rights minister told Reuters on Sunday.
The killings reported by Iraqi Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to Reuters add to a long list of atrocities reportedly committed by the radical group in Iraq and neighboring Syria, where it wants to create a caliphate.
"Some of the victims, including women and children, were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar," he said, and added that some 300 women were kidnapped as slaves.
"We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar," Sudani said in a telephone interview. "In some of the images we have obtained there are lines of dead Yazidis who have been shot in the head while the Islamic State fighters cheer and wave their weapons over the corpses," said Sudani. "This is a vicious atrocity."
The minister's comments could pile pressure on the United States – which has carried out air strikes on IS targets in response to the group's latest push through the north – to provide more extensive support.
Yazidis are one of many Iraqi minorities persecuted by the Islamic State, which adheres to a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam. The terrorists offer people living in territories they control to either convert to their faith or face death.
At least 300 Yazidi families in the villages of Koja, Hatimiya, and Qaboshi, which were surrounded by the Islamists, are being forced into converting, witnesses reported on Saturday.
The threat posed by the offensive sent an estimated 130,000 of Iraqis, many of them Yazidis, fleeing for their lives. They are seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurd militias have been battling with the Islamic State for weeks.
According to UN reports, at least 40,000 Yazidis have been stranded in several locations on Mount Sinjar in north of Iraq, where food and water are scarce.
US President Barack Obama has authorized "limited airstrikes" against IS, he said during a Thursday night press conference.
The White House has also authorized a series of humanitarian airdrops, and an anonymous Administration official stated that US forces stand at the ready to provide more.
“We will continue to provide airdrops, should we see a need, and we expect that need to continue,” the official said.