UN investigators compile evidence on use of chemical weapons by Islamic State extremists in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – UN investigators are compiling evidence on the development and use of chemical weapons by Islamic State extremists in Iraq after they seized about a third of the country in 2014, and advancing the work on gender-based violence and gender-based violence of the activist group. crimes against children, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians and Yazidis, the head of the investigative team said on Wednesday.

Christian Ritscher told the UN Security Council that survivors of a March 2016 chemical attack on Taza Khurmatu, a predominantly Shiite Turkmen town south of Kirkuk in northeast Iraq, were still deeply affected during his visit earlier this year.

He said he prioritized investigating chemical weapons used by Islamic State, also known as ISIL.

“ISIL armed several chemical agents and deployed them in the form of chemical rockets and mortars, as well as improvised explosive devices, in the vicinity of Taza Khurmatu” which hit residential areas and agricultural fields, said Ritscher.

The attack on Taza Khurmatu was considered the first use of chemical weapons by ISIL, according to UN investigators. They said more than 6,000 residents had been treated for injuries and two children had died within days of exposure, while many survivors continued to suffer chronic, ongoing effects.

Ritscher said his team’s investigation “provided expert information and analysis on the ammunition, remains and materials that were recovered” at Taza Khurmatu.

“Significant volumes of battlefield evidence, including ISIL payroll records and correspondence, have been uncovered, enabling the team to identify persons of interest and establish links with potential ISIL members,” he said.

Islamic State fighters seized Iraqi towns and declared a so-called caliphate over a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014. The group was officially declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a bloody three-year battle that left tens of thousands dead and cities in ruins. However, its sleeper cells continue to stage attacks in different parts of Iraq.

The United Nations investigative team to promote accountability for crimes committed by the Islamic State group, known as UNITAD, led by Ritscher, was established by the Security Council in 2017 to collect evidence so that perpetrators of crimes committed by the Islamic State can be held accountable in trials. He worked closely with the Iraqi judicial authorities.

A UNITAD report from May 2021 stated that the Islamic State group “tested biological and chemical agents and conducted experiments on prisoners…causing death”, and an initial investigation had been opened.

Ritscher assured the Security Council that “there is no shortage of evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq, as ISIL was a large-scale bureaucracy that documented and maintained a state-like administrative system.”

He said his team has led efforts that have so far digitized 8 million pages of ISIL documents held by Iraqi authorities, including Kurdish officials, and that UNITAD is creating a central archive “which will be the unified repository of all digitized evidence against ISIL.”

Ritscher said UNITAD also prioritizes “persons of interest” living in other countries and is currently supporting criminal prosecutions of suspected ISIL members and supporters in 17 countries.

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