The area around the gorge is currently controlled by the Syrian National Army, an amalgamation of Arab and Turkmen rebel fighters operating mostly in the militant and terrorist-controlled province of Idlib.
The Daesh (ISIS / ISIL)* terrorist group used the al-Hota gorge north of Raqqa city to dump the bodies of civilians it had abducted or detained, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported, citing the results of a preliminary investigation featuring the use of drones fitted with cameras to look deep into the gorge.
Flying a drone into the 50-meter-deep geological landmark, investigators from the US-based Human Rights Watch NGO discovered a grizzly scene: the remains of at least six human beings floating in a pool at its bottom.
HRW believes that the bodies were dumped after Daesh lost its control over the area. The victims’ identities and cause of death remain unknown. The NGO fears more remains may be present below the water’s surface.
The group is calling on authorities to secure the area and to remove the remains and start a criminal investigation, arguing that the probe should be carried out by whoever controls the area.
Daesh held the gorge area between 2014 and 2015. At present, the area around it is held by Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (formerly Free Syrian Army) militants, a militant group fighting both the Assad government and the majority Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed militia.
Prior to its liberation by the SDF, including independent Syria journalist Vanessa Beeley reported on the horrific campaign of dumping bodies in the landmark, which she indicated was actually begun by FSA forces who executed roughly 20 Syrian troops who refused to surrender or join them. Eventually, the area fell to Nusra Front* fighters, and then to Daesh, which used the gorge to execute both competing militants and civilians alike, with as many as 2,000 corpses said to have been dumped into the gorge.
The Syrian government, which has made its own gruesome discoveries of victims of terrorist mass executions in recent years, has repeatedly called on any remaining militants to surrender, and for foreign occupying forces to leave the country immediately.
Locals also recounted to HRW that when Daesh / ISIL controlled the Raqqa area, its members threatened people with being thrown into al-Hota.
Three people told HRW they had been to al-Hota during the time of Daesh / ISIL’s control and had seen bodies scattered along the gorge’s edge.
One man who had gone to collect desert truffles that grow in the area in March 2015 said he saw a body stuck on a protruding ledge.
“This was a dumping area for bodies from all over,” he told HRW. “They Daesh [ISIL] brought them in from Raqqa, Deir al-Zor – nobody knows how many bodies were there.”
An ISIL-recorded video posted on Facebook in 2014 shows a group of men throwing two bodies into the gorge.
HRW verified that the clothes on the men match those worn by two people who are shown in another video being executed by ISIL members.
More than 20 mass graves across Syria containing thousands of bodies have been found in areas formerly held by Daesh / ISIL.
But efforts to exhume these mass graves have been faltering due to a fluid security situation, limited resources and minimal outside support, HRW said.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.
Header: al-Hota cave located inside the gorge