Human Rights

More ISIS mass graves are being found in Raqqa a year after liberation


"I am from this city and many of these bodies belong to my relatives, neighbours, and friends." Syrians from Raqqa speak out about the mass graves that are still being found in the city a year after liberation from ISIS.

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, more mass graves have been found one year after the city was liberated by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). During ISIS’ rule over the city, which was considered the militant organisation’s de-facto capital in Syria, the group killed many citizens and buried them together throughout different locations in the city. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report, announcing that nine mass graves have been discovered in the city so far, with each containing between dozens to hundreds of bodies. Amnesty International announced that an estimated 2,500 bodies had been recovered from the mass graves so far, although many of them are unidentifiable due to the absence of professional forensics teams.

“The number of bodies is large. I am from this city, and many of these bodies belong to my relatives, neighbours, and friends,” said a resident of Raqqa who was walking around a newly discovered mass grave hoping to identify his loved ones. “Many people ask me about the bodies of their children or their relatives, but most of the bodies are either rotting or torn apart, it is a very sad situation.”

According to citizens, the Rashid Stadium, which was converted into Site 11, ISIS’ central prison in Raqqa, contains a large mass grave where the militant organisation used to torture and execute people on site for negligible offences.

However, despite 80% of the city being destroyed by the heavy fighting and air raids, which were launched to defeat the militant organisation, the local government has begun reconstructing the city in order to help people move past the horrors they witnessed during ISIS’ rule.

“We try to give hope to people to start a new life and a new stage and forget the destruction and the effects of war,” said Ismael Aqla, a local civil engineer.

While many of the citizens still await to receive their bodies of their loved ones from ISIS’ mass graves, the city’s residents celebrate the return of life and the defeat of the militant organisation, which spread chaos and horror during their rule.