Local volunteers and forensic experts are helping to exhume bodies out of mass graves, rubble and buildings in Raqqa, before starting the formal identification process.
Volunteers in Raqqa in northeast Syria have begun exhuming the mass graves left behind by ISIS throughout the city. According to the volunteers, the bodies that will be exhumed will be given back to their families after DNA testing, so that they are given a proper burial.
“Today is the first working day, and we have opened a mass grave and removed the bodies from it,” said a volunteer at the scene. “I, as a forensic assistant, have taken samples of these bodies and put them in boxes to prepare them for DNA analysis.”
The volunteer group had exhumed many mass graves before this one and were able to return 46 bodies to their families.
“Today, we are opening the 14th cemetery in the Cement Blocks area located in the countryside of Raqqa,” said the volunteer. “As for the cemetery of Fakhika, we have completed the work, and the total number of the dead bodies exhumed from the cemetery of Fakhika is 632, 46 of which have been handed over to their families.” To this time, the Fakhika mass grave, which is estimated to contain 3,500 bodies, remains to be the largest mass grave found in Raqqa following the defeat of ISIS in the city, in October 2017.
According to the volunteers, this mass grave is said to contain the bodies of a large number of civilians in addition to journalists killed by the militant group during their time in the city.
While thousands of bodies remain unidentified due to the amount of damage inflicted on the bodies, and the absence of resources, the Rapid Response Division of Raqqa’s Civil Defence service has been able to identify some 560 bodies and return them to their families, since the start of the exhumation projects.
As families await to receive the bodies of their loved ones, the volunteers and authorities in Raqqa continue to work on this initiative to help heal the wounds of war, by allowing civilians killed by the militant group to rest peacefully in marked graves.
“We ask God to accept our work,” said one of the volunteers.