ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Islamic State is losing battles in Iraq and Syria, and as it retreats, we're getting a clearer picture of the destruction the group has caused. A warning that some of these details might be disturbing. Last year I visited a newly freed Iraqi village on the border with Syria. On the outskirts of town, there was a mound of dirt with bones sticking out, and there I met Naif Brahmen Khadir.
He patrols this site every day, making sure dogs don't dig up the bones. Khadir pulls a dirty white cloth from under a stone.
This is a head scarf.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is a - you see the black. It's blood.
SHAPIRO: A new Associated Press report documents at least 72 mass graves like that one. Together they could hold the remains of as many as 15,000 victims. Lori Hinnant was the lead reporter on the Associated Press story and joins us now. Welcome.
LORI HINNANT: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: What does the sheer number of these graves tell us about how ISIS ruled this territory?
HINNANT: Well, the sheer number shows us not only that they ruled by a reign of terror but also that they intended that even if they left, that nobody would ever be able to return home and see their homes the same way again. They really left a lot of sorrow behind with all of the mass graves in pretty much every place that they have conquered.
SHAPIRO: And what can you tell us about who the victims were and how they were killed?
HINNANT: The victims were killed in a variety of different ways. In Sinjar Mountain where they were primarily Yazidis, they were largely shot. There were some who were decapitated, and they were tossed pretty much pell-mell into pits - very shallow ones - and covered with a thin layer of dirt.
There are also hundreds of prison inmates from Badoush Prison outside Mosul who were forced to line up and gunned down and then pushed over a ravine and burned. And then there are people whose bodies have been tossed into natural geological pits that no one has even seen before in person. But we know from both residents and from Islamic State propaganda that there are hundreds if not thousands of bodies in them.
SHAPIRO: The Yazidis of course are an ethnic minority that has documented many attempts of what they describe as genocide over previous decades. Did these mass graves indicate that this is genocide of Yazidis and other minorities?
HINNANT: You can see that it is a systematic effort to kill anybody that they encountered if they were male. Young women and girls and children were taken away to be sold as slaves. It is clearly a systematic effort to taint Sinjar Mountain and to make it so that the Yazidis never return again.
They make clear in their propaganda that they believed that Yazidis should be wiped out. There are still survivors, including two survivors of mass killings that I spoke with myself, but it is extremely difficult for them.
SHAPIRO: When I was reporting on this area, I found people patrolling mass graves 24 hours a day until officials from the U.N. or other international agencies could come document what happened. Is there any such international effort to accurately measure the extent of the killing?
HINNANT: There is no international effort so far to do so. There are some small attempts by groups, including the same group that helped document the killings after the Balkan wars, to keep the graves protected in hopes that they can be exhumed someday. But so far there is no money or political will to do a comprehensive and systematic excavation to document the crimes or to match the victims to their surviving family.
SHAPIRO: When you talk to people who are returning to these villages where the mass graves are located, what do they want to do? What do they want to see happen here?
HINNANT: They want the graves to be exhumed, and they want their loved ones' bodies to be properly buried. The Yazidis have actually set aside part of the Sinjar area near one of their holiest shrines for victims of the Islamic State. And you can see where the ground is ready to receive those victims, but the bodies just aren't there yet because they haven't been exhumed.
SHAPIRO: Lori Hinnant of the Associated Press, thank you very much.
HINNANT: Thank you.
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