Crime

4,800 bodies recently exhumed from ISIS mass graves in Raqqa

Syria

Almost 5,000 bodies have been recovered from ISIS mass graves in Raqqa since the operation to locate and identify missing persons began.

Just over a month since volunteers in Raqqa began exhuming mass graves left behind by ISIS, the Emergency Response Team of Raqqa’s Civil Council continues to find bodies. These graves were discovered thanks to information provided by the residents of the city, who were stranded during fighting between ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2017.

The Emergency Response Team in Raqqa aims to formally identify the bodies exhumed with DNA testing and provide them with a proper burial. According to the latest estimates, 4,800 bodies have been recovered since the team began its operation, of whom 320 have been formally identified and returned to their families.

In addition, a total of 14 mass graves have so far been unearthed within and around the city of Raqqa, with the graves of the Panorama neighbourhood and along the Euphrates alone accounting for 1,500 of the recovered bodies so far, according to Yasser al-Khamis, the head of the Emergency Response Team. Khamis pointed out that most of the bodies recovered belonged to women and children, though the bodies of ISIS militants were also discovered, adding that 370 bodies have been recovered from the Talaea Camp in the southern countryside of Raqqa thus far, indicating that work is still ongoing at the site.

After the bodies are exhumed from the mass graves, the volunteers conduct forensic analysis on them to identify their sex, age and cause of death. Other indicators of identity are also used to assist this process, including ID cards, which may also be used to determine place of residence prior to making contact with their families. After the documentation is completed, the bodies are taken to a dedicated cemetery south of the Euphrates River to be buried there.

The sheer number of missing people who have been accounted for following these exhumations highlights the scale of devastation caused by ISIS during its three-year reign over the city. It is hoped that providing a proper burial for the now-accounted for victims will provide their families with some much-needed respite.