Unknown gunmen shot dead 23 textile factory workers from the ancient Yazidi culture in an apparent revenge killing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul April 22. Authorities said the gunmen erected a roadblock, forced the workers out of a minibus, lined them against a wall and shot them execution-style in the eastern al-Nour district of Mosul. Three survived, seriously wounded. Iraqi Brigadier-General Mohammed al-Waggaa said the killings seemed to be in retaliation for an incident in which a Yazidi woman was stoned to death several weeks ago for converting to Islam.
One source told Reuters the woman had fallen in love with a Muslim man and run away with him a few months ago. Police detained the couple, kept the man in jail and freed the woman after receiving assurances from her family she would not be harmed. According to the source, Yazidi community leaders decided they had to "cleanse the shame", and stoned the woman to death. One witness said he saw a mobile phone video of the stoning, showing a group of men beating, kicking and hitting a woman with large blocks of cement.
Yazidis, followers of a pre-Islamic indigenous faith, have often faced discrimination in Iraq (and been the target of calumnies). The angel they venerate as ruler of the Earth is often identified as the fallen angel Satan in biblical terminology. They are of course deemed heretical by orthodox Islam. (Reuters, April 22)
"It is unacceptable because Yazidis, in addition to being a minority in Iraq, have been discriminated against for their beliefs and are forced to isolate themselves to stay alive," Hebert Yegorova, a spokesman for Yazidi Peace Association, told the UN news agency IRIN.
"The attack against the sect was clear after the gunmen asked Christians to leave the bus in which the Yazidi workers were, shooting to death only people from our community," he added.
The victims were all from the small town of Bashika, outside Mosul. Hundreds of Christians and Yazidis have taken refuge in the area, fleeing from religious violence in other parts of Iraq.
According to the Yazidi Peace Association, 204 Yazidis have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There are about 600,000 Yazidis remaining in Iraq, mostly in the towns of Bashika and Sinjar, under the control of the Kurdistan regional government. (IRIN, April 23)
After the killings, hundreds of Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika. AP reports shops were shuttered and many Muslim residents closed themselves in their homes, fearing reprisal attacks. Police set up additional checkpoints across the city. (AP, April 23)