The Islamic militant group in northern Iraq that captured two major cities last week has posted graphic photos that appear to show its militia executing captured Iraqi soldiers, The New York Times first reported.
The images appear to show the militants loading soldiers onto flatbed trucks, and then forcing them to lie face-down in a ditch with their arms tied behind their backs.
As The New York Times reported, the legitimacy of the images is not confirmed:
The authenticity of the photographs and the insurgents' claim could not be verified, and Iraqi government officials initially cast doubt on whether such a mass execution took place. There were also no reports of large numbers of funerals in the Salahuddin Province area, where the executions were said to have been conducted.
If the claim is true, however, the killings would be the biggest mass atrocity in either Syria or Iraq in many years, surpassing even the chemical weapon attack outside of the Syrian city of Damascus last year, in which 1,400 people were killed.
Erin Evers, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Iraq, also expressed doubt that the pictures were real:
We're trying to verify the pics, and I am not convinced they are authentic. ... As far as ISIS claiming it has killed 1,700 people and publishing horrific photos to support that claim, it is unfortunately in keeping with their pattern of commission of atrocities, and obviously intended to further fuel sectarian war.
The news was kept under wraps in Iraq for several days, since last week the government blocked a number of websites, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
Update — June 15, 5:00 p.m. ET: The government increased security around Baghdad Sunday, a day after hundreds of armed Shiite men took to the streets after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqis to defend their country, The Associated Press reports
Despite the increased security, a number of explosions killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 30 in Baghdad on Sunday, police and hospital officials told the AP.
One car bomb went off in the city center, killing 10 and wounding 21. Another explosion hit the area in the evening, killing two and wounding five. The third bomb went off near a falafel shop in the Sadr City district of the city, which killed three and injured seven.