Forty children from northern Iraq’s Yazidi minority are reported to have died as a result of a jihadist attack on the Sinjar region, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Tuesday.
“According to official reports received by UNICEF, these children from the Yazidi minority died as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration over the past two days,” a statement said.
On Sunday, fighters from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group that controls much of northwestern Iraq took over Sinjar, which had been under the control of Kurdish troops.
The town, near the Syrian border, is a hub for Iraq’s Yazidis, a very closed community that follows an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism and referred to by jihadists as “devil worshippers”.
Sinjar was also a temporary home for thousands of displaced people from other minorities, such as Shiite Turkmen who had fled the nearby city of Tal Afar when IS launched its offensive on June 9.
The attack on Sinjar sent thousands of people running from their homes in panic, some of them scurrying into the mountains with no supplies.
“Families who fled the area are in immediate need of urgent assistance, including up to 25,000 children who are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including drinking water and sanitation services,” UNICEF said.
Pictures posted on the Internet by members of the Yazidi community show little clusters of people gathering on the cave-dotted flanks of a craggy canyon in the Sinjar mountains.
Yazidi leaders and rights activists have said the very existence of the multi-millennial community on its ancestral land was at risk as a result of the latest violence and displacement.