Fighters for the Islamic State reportedly killed more than 160 civilians in a single day last week as they attempted to flee Western Mosul, according to a report released by the United Nations.

Last Tuesday, as Iraqi Security Forces backed by the United States and its allies continued their effort to destroy ISIS in its last ten or so square kilometers of territory within the historic city, ISIS fighters resorted to killing civilians in order to ensure enough of them remained to serve as a form of human shields intended to dissuade coalition forces from using air strikes to support the ISF’s advance.  By maintaining high populations of civilians in the regions with the most brutal fighting, ISIS all but guarantees civilian casualties any time air support is used in the fighting.

“The brutality of Daesh [ISIL] and other terrorist groups seemingly knows no bounds,” said Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief.

“Yesterday, my staff reported to me that bodies of murdered Iraqi men, women and children still lay on the streets of the al-Shira neighbourhood of western Mosul, after at least 163 people were shot and killed by Daesh to prevent them from fleeing.”

A Reuters television crew in the area reported coming across the bodies of civilians, including children, lying in the street in the Zanjili district on Saturday.  It was not apparent at the time how the civilians had been killed, but one U.S. aid worker at the scene explained that ISIS had been shooting them as they were trying to escape.

“Over the past two days ISIS (Islamic State) has been shooting people escaping this area,” Dave Eubank from the Free Burma Rangers relief association told Reuters.  Eubank claimed he saw more than 50 bodies and that he managed to save one young girl from the violence.  Hundreds of civilians, many wounded and some carrying the shrouded bodies of their deceased loved ones, did manage to reach Iraqi Security Forces.

In another incident, seven civilians were killed and 23 were wounded by mortar shells fired by the Islamic State in the same district last Thursday.  Again, ISIS killed these civilians in order to dissuade any others from attempting to make their own escape, according to Iraqi police.

“Although the UN is not present in the areas where fighting is occurring, we have received very disturbing reports of families being shut inside booby-trapped homes and of children being deliberately targeted by snipers,” Stephen O’Brien, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, told the media last month.

In recent weeks, the media has reported on the casualties of American-backed air strikes in and around Mosul repeatedly, though few have gone so far as to explain the reasoning behind these civilian deaths.  The United States and the coalition take significant efforts to prevent the loss of civilian life, but as ISIS continues to use innocent people as a shield from air strikes, it becomes difficult to advance through Mosul without risking the lives of those effectively held hostage inside ISIS controlled portions of the city.

“I want to emphasize here there has been no change to our rules of engagement, and there has been no change to our continued extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties,” American Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, told the press last month.


Image courtesy of Reuters