(CNSNews.com) – The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant commonly carries out public executions in its Syrian stronghold on Fridays, forcing children to watch as victims are beheaded or shot at close range. Corpses are then displayed on crucifixes and decapitated heads exhibited on sticks for days afterwards.
The gruesome details are recorded in a new report released Wednesday by a U.N.-appointed independent panel investigating the Syrian conflict, now being described as “the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.”
Amputations, the stoning to death of women by “ISIS-sanctioned” mobs, lashings with cables, and the recruitment of children as young as 10 to fight are among other abuses committed by ISIS, said the report, which is based on almost 500 interviews and documentary material, and focuses on the six-month period up to Jul. 15.
It also documented rights violations by the Assad regime, including murder, rape, torture, and the dropping of “barrel bombs” containing chlorine gas on civilian areas on at least eight separate occasions last April.
“Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays in Ar Raqqah and ISIS-controlled areas of Aleppo governorate,” the report stated, saying ISIS did this publicly to instill terror and ensure submission to its authority.
Victims, whose “crimes” are recited aloud before the killing, are accused of violating ISIS laws, affiliating with other groups, including the mainstream opposition Syrian National Coalition, or spying for the regime.
“ISIS justifies its executions by religious law,” it said.
The executions are carried out in public, and the victims’ remains displayed afterwards, to create “an atmosphere of fear and terror,” the panel chairman, Brazilian lawyer Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said at the report’s release in Geneva.
“ISIS poses a clear and present danger to civilians, and particularly minorities, under its control in Syria and in the region,” he said.
Raqqa is the center of ISIS-held territory in Syria and the self-proclaimed capital of the “caliphate” it declared in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq last June.
The panel’s report said that since declaring the caliphate, ISIS has succeeded in “attracting more experienced and ideologically motivated foreign fighters.”
ISIS enforces strict shari’a-based laws in Raqqa, and the report cited numerous cases of women being beaten for being “improperly dressed,” such as appearing in public with face uncovered.
“In some cases, victims were tied to a wooden board or crucifix and displayed publicly in the squares before being lashed.”
ISIS rule affected everything from freedom of movement to personal piety, with reports of men being flogged for not fasting during Ramadan.
“The imposition of a strict interpretation of shari’a law previously unseen in the Syrian Arab Republic, setting out regulations on all aspects of life from food to movement, employment and religious observance, has restricted basic freedoms, particularly for women.”
“ISIS inflicts severe physical or mental pain or suffering on civilian populations in areas under its control, as part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population. There has been a rise in torture and the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of the civilian population in Ar Raqqah governorate.”
‘None of the ISIS fighters spoke Arabic’
Other abuses, which the panel said amount in some cases to crimes against humanity and war crimes, include the forced displacement of civilians.
In one such incident, ISIS fighters entering a village last March announced from the mosque minaret that all Kurdish residents should leave within two days or be killed, sparking an exodus.
Another episode cited in the report provided glimpses into both ISIS’ brutality and sectarian hatred, and the confusion on the ground in the conflict zone.
ISIS fighters in May seized control of a traditionally Yazidi village in the country’s far north-east and, assuming the residents to be Yazidis, starting killing them. But the jihadists did not realize that the Yazidis had fled earlier, to be replaced by Syrian Sunnis who had been displaced by fighting elsewhere.
Facing certain death, and “desperate to show that they were Muslims,” the Sunni inhabitants began to cite verses from the Qur’an – but “none of the ISIS fighters spoke Arabic.”
According to the report, citing survivors of the massacre, about 15 people had been killed by the time one Iraqi ISIS fighter was able to alert his comrades to the fact that they were killing Sunnis, not Yazidis.
The panel also reported that parties in the conflict continue to seize hostages, often women and children. Some are later traded for captured fighters although in some cases no ransom demands are issued, and the whereabouts of many abducted people remain unknown.
Among those still missing are four human rights activists seized near Damascus last December; Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio, who disappeared in ISIS-controlled Raqqa in July 2013; and Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, abducted at gunpoint near Syria’s border with Turkey in April 2013.
“Dozens of journalists, both foreign and Syrian, remain in captivity, detained incommunicado because of their professional activities,” it said, noting that religious personnel and journalists enjoy specific protection under international humanitarian law.