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Iraqi security forces said Tuesday that since recapturing the city of Tikrit last week they had found 14 mass graves, thought to contain the bodies of the worst massacre perpetrated by the Islamic State extremist group.grave

Officials, who declined to be named, said the bodies included soldiers captured by the militants after fleeing from a military base near the city during Islamic State’s lightning offensive in June last year.

The victims had been thrown at random into the graves in the grounds of former ruler Saddam Hussein’s palace complex on the banks of the Tigris river, the officials said.

The Sunni jihadist group claimed at the time to have executed 1,700 Shiite soldiers who had surrendered to it after fleeing nearby Camp Speicher. It said 800 Sunni troops had been “pardoned.”

Photographs published by the group showed large groups of young men being rounded up, driven in the backs of trucks to fields, and then made to lie on the ground in rows as gunmen apparently opened fire on them.

A video later released showed other men being hustled to the riverside one by one, beaten, shot in the head and thrown in the water.

The camp from which the mostly young military trainees fled was never overrun by Islamic State.

Human Rights Watch said in September last year that testimony from a survivor and satellite imagery confirmed the execution of 560 to 770 men, all apparently captured soldiers, at the palace complex.

The killings were the worst of numerous atrocities during a rapid offensive that saw the Islamic State group seize much of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq as security forces collapsed.

The massacre led to repeated demands from the victims’ families for the government to establish the fate of their sons.

Shiite militias, who played the leading role in the recent operation to recapture Tikrit, had called for revenge for the slain soldiers.

Officials said specialist teams were at work Tuesday removing the bodies from the graves.

GNA

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