Middle East

Iraq sentences Islamic State militants to death for Tikrit massacre

Iraqi Shia militiamen carry the coffins of soldiers killed in the Speicher massacre (1 July 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hundreds of bodies have been exhumed since government forces recaptured Tikrit in March

A court in Iraq has sentenced 24 suspected members of Islamic State (IS) to death for their role in the massacre of hundreds of soldiers in June 2014.

As many as 1,700 soldiers, most of them Shia Muslim recruits, were killed when the jihadist group overran the Camp Speicher military base near Tikrit.

IS posted graphic photos and video online documenting the atrocity.

Iraqi government forces arrested dozens of people suspected of involvement after recapturing Tikrit in March.

Forensic teams also began exhuming the remains of victims from mass graves in the area. So far more than 470 bodies have been found at four sites.

'Relieved'

The 24 Iraqi nationals sentenced to death by hanging on Wednesday by a court in Baghdad were charged with the killings and membership of a terrorist group.

All of the defendants pleaded not guilty, insisting they had not taken part in one of the worst atrocities committed in Iraq in recent times.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Islamic State filmed soldiers they captured in Tikrit, prior to their killing

They told the court that their confessions had been coerced under torture by Iraqi officers.

But within hours of the trial's start, the defendants had been convicted on the basis of what a spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council described as strong evidence.

"We are relieved to see these criminals receiving the maximum punishment," Ali Abdul Hamza, whose brother was among the victims, told the Associated Press as he left the courtroom.

The sentences should now be sent to a higher court within a month for approval.

Another 604 suspects wanted in connection with the killings remained at large, the judiciary spokesman said.

Photos and videos published by IS at the time of what is now known as the "Speicher massacre" showed soldiers being loaded onto vehicles and then forced to lie face down on the ground at various locations before being shot dead.

Some bodies were pushed into the River Tigris, while others were buried in at least 12 mass graves that were discovered after government forces retook Tikrit.