His heart began beating rapidly and he was short of breath. The cause for Mustafa Hassan's distress was a piece of information on the social media site, Facebook. The pages Hassan*, a young man originally from Mosul but now living in Dohuk, was reading specialise in news and information from inside his hometown, which has been under the control of the extremist group known as the Islamic State since last June.
Hassan and his father spent two days in one of Mosul's prisons at the end of last June, after they were arrested by Islamic State, or IS, fighters. After they were released Hassan fled the city. But his father stayed. And for the past 13 months, Hassan has been desperately hoping for news of his parent.
The piece of news that quickened his pulse was information that the IS group had published a list of over 2,000 names, all of whom had been executed by the group, which bases it's ideology on arcane and brutal practices. Locals in Mosul are punished for everything from smoking to watching football games to adultery with lashings, stonings and death.
Hassan had heard conflicting reports about his father and he hoped that he might still be alive. But he also suspected he might have been murdered by the IS group. The list could be his family’s chance to find out for sure.
In Mosul there are literally thousands of missing persons, most of them thought to be arrested and in prisons run by the IS group. Nobody knows their fate, whether they are alive or dead – and this is the first time that the IS group have published such a list.
The “death list” as locals have called it, contained 2,070 names and copies of it were hung on the walls of what the IS group calls it's Islamic Police Stations.
As word of the lists spread, local people rushed to the police stations to scan the names for information about their missing relatives and friends.
Omar Jirjis lives near the IS-run police station in the Somar neighbourhood in eastern Mosul and he described to NIQASH what he saw. “Dozens of people came to the centre to search for the names of sons, brothers, husbands and other relatives. Many of them had pale faces. Many left the centre with tears in their eyes and many of the women who left began crying loudly and beating themselves,” he told NIQASH.
As the people came near the walls where the death lists were hanging, members of the IS police force checked their identities and temporarily confiscated their phones and cameras. They wouldn't allow anyone to take pictures of the lists while they were checking the names – presumably so family members would have to come to check the lists in person.
“Members of the group were heavily armed and they were watching reactions of the people closely,” Jirjis says. “This meant that anyone who did see the name of a loved one on the list couldn’t even complain or curse those who had murdered them – because they knew that the IS members wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone who curses the organisation’s name or objects to its verdicts.”
“I saw a man putting his hand over the mouth of one of the women who came – she was wearing a niqab - to prevent her from saying a word,” Jirjis continues. “When she left she got into a car. He closed the doors and the woman started to scream and cry and beat her face. But I couldn’t hear a word she said.”
All of the names on the list were prosecuted and arrested by the IS group on different dates during the past year, although most of them seem to have been detained during the first four months of the IS group's control of the city.
The victims on the lists come from all sectors of Mosul's society and are both male and female – most of them do seem to have been acting in some official capacity at some time: Members of the army or police, politicians or political candidates, members of local or provincial authorities and councils, civil servants, journalists and a number of moderate clerics who were opposed to the IS group's extremist ideology.
While the number of names – 2,070 – can explain the growing number of orphans in Mosul, there are no graves to match those without families. Most of the corpses were disposed of in a sort of sinkhole and cavern south of the city called Al Khafsa. Other bodies were burned and still others were executed by explosion and other means, that didn't leave any remains.
The death lists have brought closure for some Mosul locals. For months now, local man Abu Samir has been hoping to see his only son again – he was arrested by the IS group on suspicion of being a member of a group opposed to them. Abu Samir told NIQASH he used to go to one of the members of the IS group and ask about his son. The man always told him that his son was still alive and in good health.
But his son's name was on the death lists. After reading this, Abu Samir went to the fighter who used to tell him his son was alive; he was crying and asked the fighter why he had lied.
“Do you think the Islamic State has hotels to accommodate the apostates,” the IS fighter scoffed.
But not everyone is certain about the fate of their disappeared relatives yet. The death lists do not contain all of the names of all of the IS group's victims – mostly the lists held names of detainees whose fate was unknown until then. And there are rumours about another list, with another 570 names on it, this time of individuals executed during the past four months.
One doctor, who recently managed to escape Mosul, told NIQASH that the morgues in Mosul's hospitals are still full of bodies of those more recently executed by the extremists.
“There are usually two or three bodies in storage where only one body is meant to be stored,” the doctor explained.
The IS group stopped using the Al Khafsa hole for disposing of bodies at the beginning of 2015. But there are still many locals who have disappeared and whose names were not on the death list. Which is why unhappy locals believe that the IS group will publish more lists, one after the other, because there is no hope that the group will be expelled from the city anytime soon.
As for Hassan, who is now living in relative safety in the Dohuk area which is controlled by the Iraqi Kurdish military, he was still desperate to find out if his father's name was on the list. But none of his relatives still living in Mosul would dare to look at the lists. They were afraid they would be arrested too. So the family asked a more distant relative to go and check the death list for them.
Hassan's family waited for three days, Hassan told NIQASH. “This man started to lie to us. He told us he couldn't go and check the list. On the second day he said he was sick. But finally he told us: Our father's name was on the list.”
Hassan and his brothers have accepted the inevitable. They recently held a funeral in Dohuk – even though they were unable to accord their father's body the respect they knew he deserved.
*Names of locals living in Mosul have been changed for their safety and their families' safety.