Residents of al-Raqqa search for loved ones in mass graves

Writing Mais Noor Aldeen | Editing Hasan Borhan | Translation Muhammad Ghaith | Translation Editing Vera Halvorsen 🕔 Publication Date: January 23, 2019, 1:58:30 PM wire MILITARY International Coalition in Syria and Iraq

Al-Raqqa - SMART

Residents of the city of al-Raqqa, Northeastern Syria, are heartbroken after the al-Raqqa Civil Council finished retrieving hundreds of bodies from the al-Banorama Park mass grave. Many residents did not find the bodies of their sons and relatives among the bodies, and continue to wait in the hope that workers will search new mass graves and find their relatives.

A resident who introduced herself as Umm Riyadh said, “I have been searching for the body of my son in mass graves for a year, but I cannot find him. If I can just see my son’s bones...”

Umm Riyadh tells the story of her only child who was killed in the al-Dar’iya neighborhood in al-Raqqa, saying that he was killed before he turned nine years old. He went out to buy bread during the siege by the International Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) when an International Coalition airstrike hit the neighborhood.

Umm Riyadh added, “Neighbors knocked on the door of my house and told me that Riyadh was killed in an airstrike and his body was transported to a hospital. I rushed to the hospital, but I could not (find him and) identify him due to the many bodies. Islamic State (IS) members made us leave the hospital, and when I returned, they told me that they buried Riyadh, but they did not tell me where or how.”

Umm Riyadh said, “I only know the colors of his clothes... I searched for his body in the mass graves in the al-Rasheed neighborhood, the zoo, and the al-Banorama Park, but I could not find him. I even checked the death registry in the al-Raqqa Civil Council, but could not find him.”

The resident Hasan al-Zuwaid said that the IS detained his brother Maher for smoking cigarettes. When an International Coalition airstrike hit the IS prison Maher was held in, near the village of al-’Adnaniyah in March 2017, Maher was killed.

Al-Zuwaid added that a former IS member told him that Maher’s body was transported with dozens of other bodies to a hospital and later buried in the al-Banorama Park. Zuwaid noted, “Workers retrieved all the bodies from the mass grave, but I did not find Maher.”

Muhannad al-Ahmad, a resident of the al-Haramiya neighborhood, said that he buried the bodies of his second wife Sundus and child Fatima, who were killed in an International Coalition airstrike, in the al-Banorama Park.

Despite his wife and child’s deaths, al-Ahmad said that knowing the place of their graves is a mercy, adding, “Thank God that I know where my wife and child are buried. I buried them myself in the park when our neighborhood was besieged.”

Al-Ahmad added, “On that day, my wife was making tea with my child when a missile hit the kitchen, killing them instantly. I wrapped them in a blanket and buried them in the al-Banorama Park because it is close to my house.”

On January 14, 2019, after two and a half months of work, the Initial Response Team (IRT) of the al-Raqqa Civil Council finished retrieving all of the 3,310 bodies in the al-Banorama mass grave. Residents identified 550 of the bodies, which were returned to their families. 850 of the bodies belonged to IS members, and 1,910 bodies were not identified, according to Yasser al-Khamees, the IRT field leader.

The al-Banorama mass grave is only one of many mass graves that the IRT retrieves bodies from. Earlier, the IRT finished retrieving bodies from mass graves in the zoo, the Children’s Park, the al-Baja’a area, the Ummayad Mosque, and the al-Rasheed and al-Badou neighborhoods. Victims’ families are waiting for the IRT to start retrieving bodies from the mass graves in the areas of al-Fakhikha, al-Salhabiya, and Tal Zeidan (also known as al-Hamrat), hoping to find the bodies of their loved ones.

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Writing Mais Noor Aldeen | Editing Hasan Borhan | Translation Muhammad Ghaith | Translation Editing Vera Halvorsen 🕔 Publication Date: January 23, 2019, 1:58:30 PM wire MILITARY International Coalition in Syria and Iraq
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