The bodies of almost 600 victims from one of the worst atrocities ever committed by the Isis militant group have been exhumed from sites in northern Iraq, officials have said.
Speaking at a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq’s human rights minister Mohammed al-Bayati gave the latest update on a body count that is expected to continue to rise – possibly even double.
The bodies are all those of young air cadets, massacred after the fall of the northern city of Tikrit to Isis almost exactly one year ago.
Tikrit, famous for being the home town of Saddam Hussein, fell to the so-called “Islamic State” on 12 June 2014, two days after the larger city of Mosul, now the group’s biggest stronghold in Iraq.
According to reports, images and videos posted online by Isis at the time, the group also captured the Speicher military base near Tikrit, and with it around 4,000 unarmed air force recruits.
Between 1,000 and 1,700 mostly Shia recruits were executed and buried in mass graves in several locations.
Tikrit was recaptured by government forces in April, the start of a mammoth task for the state’s forensic scientists to identify those massacred.
“The remains of 597 Speicher martyrs have been exhumed,” Mohammed al-Bayati told journalists in Baghdad.
In a previous update, health minister Adila Hammoud described the work to exhume the Speicher victims as “complicated”.
“There were several layers of bodies all piled on top of each other,” he said. “It's a huge case. It takes a lot of work to identify the victims.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies