The al Qaeda-inspired Sunni extremist group surging in Iraq over the past week now claims to have massacred hundreds of Shiite Muslim men taken captive from the nation's government security forces.
Ghastly images claiming to show several mass graves near the city of Tikrit were posted Sunday on a militant website and social media accounts, including a Twitter feed linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) -- the group whose fighters have seized control of several northern and western Iraqi cities and towns over the past week.
Some news organizations said ISIL operatives had claimed to have killed 1,700 captured Iraq soldiers, shooting them at point blank range over shallow mass graves dug at various sites.
The Washington Times has not independently confirmed the validity of those claims, or the photos posted by ISIL -- although the very arrival and spread of the images on social media sites is likely only to sharpen already searing sectarian tensions between Iraq's minority Sunni and majority Shiite populations.
The Associated Press cited a top Iraqi military spokesman as saying the photographs were authentic and that he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIL. Chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told the AP an examination of the images by military experts showed that about 170 soldiers were shot to death by the militants after their capture.
A caption of one image posted by ISIL claimed that "hundreds" of captured Iraqi soldiers had been "liquidated," according to the AP.
Other pictures, on a militant website, showed masked fighters of the ISIL loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images purport to show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot.
One of the photos shows ISIL fighters leading a group of men wearing plain clothes to an apparent execution cite in an open field. The caption on the photo, according to a report by The New York Times, said: "Look at them walking to death on their own feet."
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