Extremist fighters swarmed into a besieged Yazidi village Friday and killed or captured dozens of residents, according to Yazidis and Kurdish commanders, offering a reminder that the ancient minority sect is still at risk despite President Obama’s conclusion that the threat had passed for those stranded on Mount Sinjar.
Islamic State militants drove into the village of Kocho, about 15 miles southwest of the town of Sinjar, on Friday, following a week-long siege in which the al-Qaeda inspired group demanded that residents convert to Islam or face death, said the reports, which could not be independently verified.
The men were rounded up and executed, while the women were taken to an undisclosed location, according to Ziad Sinjar, a pesh merga commander based on the edge of Mount Sinjar, citing the accounts of villagers nearby. He put the number of dead at 42 and said 80 women and children had been transported out of the village.
Yazidi activists and Kurdish officials said at least 80 men were killed and hundreds of women taken away after the fighters entered the village shortly after 1 pm on Friday.
“The villagers had received local assurances that they were safe,” said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s former foreign minister who is now working closely with the Kurdistan Regional Government. “Maybe they killed them in revenge for the setbacks they have suffered from the air strikes.”
The accounts could not be independently confirmed nor the conflicting numbers reconciled, but fears had been growing for the welfare of Yazidis in the village since the Islamic State siege began on Aug. 7.
The U.S. Central Command said Friday that it had carried out a drone attack south of the town of Sinjar after receiving reports of an attack in the area. The drone “struck and destroyed two vehicles,” it said.
The alleged killings came a day after Obama called off plans for a military evacuation of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, saying they were no longer at risk. If confirmed, the events in Kocho would constitute the worst single atrocity committed against the Yazidis since the Aug. 3 assault on Sinjar triggered a humanitarian crisis and contributed to the Obama administration’s decision to intervene.
At least 10 U.S. airstrikes and drops of food and medicine have since helped tens of thousands of Yazidis reach safety after they sought refuge on the mountain nearly two weeks ago, then got stranded in the barren terrain without water or food.
Obama declared Thursday that the U.S. effort “broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar.” A team of U.S. Special Forces and aid officials dispatched to the mountain Wednesday concluded that the intervention had dispelled the imminent threat to the lives of Yazidis, he said.
But although the airstrikes appear to have helped those trapped on the mountain reach safety, people who did not join the initial exodus are still at risk, Yazidis say.