ISIS committed genocide against Christians, Shi'ites: US

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Kerry Designates ISIS Atrocities as Genocide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Islamic State militant group has committed genocide against minority Christians and Yazidis as well as Shi'ite Muslims, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday, a finding that is unlikely to greatly change U.S. policy toward the group.

READ MORE: 2 women risked their lives to capture this chilling footage of life inside the capital of ISIS

"The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians. Yazidis because they are Yazidis. Shi'ites because they are Shi'ites," Kerry said, referring to the group by an Arabic acronym, and accusing it of crimes against humanity and of ethnic cleansing.

RELATED: Life under the rule of ISIS

28 PHOTOS
What life looks like under ISIS rule, Islamic State
See Gallery
ISIS committed genocide against Christians, Shi'ites: US
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. slamic State militants are barricading down for a possible assault on their de facto capital Raqqa, hiding among civilian homes and preventing anyone from fleeing, as international airstrikes intensify on the Syrian city in the wake of the Paris attacks. For many, the threat of missiles and bombs from the enemies of Islamic State is more of an immediate threat than the vicious oppression of the jihadisâ themselves. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants pass by a convoy in Tel Abyad town, northeast Syria. In contrast to the failures of the Iraqi army, in Syria Kurdish fighters are on the march against the Islamic State group, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country's northeast in recent days, under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. (Militant website via AP)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 4, 2014, which is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. For the al-Qaida breakaway group that overran parts of Iraq this week, the border between that country and Syria, where it is also fighting, may as well not even be there. The group, wants to establish a Shariah-ruled mini-state bridging both countries, in effect uniting a Sunni heartland across the center of the Mideast.
This file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, which is consistent with AP reporting, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province. The Islamic State was originally al-Qaida's branch in Iraq, but it used Syria's civil war to vault into something more powerful. It defied orders from al-Qaida's central command and expanded its operations into Syria, ostensibly to fight to topple Assad. But it has turned mainly to conquering territory for itself, often battling other rebels who stand in the way. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
FILE - This image posted on a militant website on Saturday, June 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, appears to show militants from the Islamic State group with truckloads of captured Iraqi soldiers after taking over a base in Tikrit. Iraq won the battle to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group, backed by a coalition of the unlikely in Iranian advisers, Shiite militias and U.S.-led airstrikes, but the country now faces what could be its most important battle: Winning the support of the Sunni. (AP Photo via militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Once a vibrant, mixed city considered a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, the eastern city of Raqqa is now a shell of its former life, transformed by al-Qaida militants into the nucleus of the terror group's version of an Islamic caliphate they hope one day to establish in Syria and Iraq. In rare interviews with The Associated Press, residents and activists in Raqqa describe a city where fear prevails, music has been banned, Christians have to pay religious tax in return for protection and face-veiled women and pistol-wielding men in jihadi uniforms patrol the streets. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
In this May 26, 2015 photo, Bilal Abdullah poses for a portrait in the village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq, nearly a year after Islamic State militants took over the village. In the Islamic State's realm, a document testifying that one has "repented" from a heretical past must be carried at all times and it can mean the difference between life and death. Abdullah learned that not long after the extremists took over his home village. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, a girl holds a broom in the town of Eski Mosul, Iraq, which had been under the control of the Islamic State group for months. Most residents stayed in the town after it was liberated by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in January 2015. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on March 7, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group holds the IS flag as he dismantles a cross on the top of a church in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 8, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of Islamic State group's traffic police, right, writes a ticket to a driver, left, in Raqqa, Syria. Taxi drivers or motorists usually play the IS station on their radios - music, which is forbidden, can get the driver 10 lashes. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, people stand at the window of a media distribution point to receive CDs from Islamic State militants, right, in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this Sunday, May 17, 2015 photo, Sheikh Abdullah Ibrahim poses with his son while holding an Islamic State group-issued death certificate - all that he has left of his wife, Buthaina Ibrahim, an outspoken human rights activist and official, in the village of Eski Mosul, northern Iraq. There is no grave, no idea what was done with her body after the extremists took her from their home one night and killed her in a purge after overrunning the village north of Mosul, Iraq in June 2014. Given her government ties, IS fighters quickly demanded she apply for a repentance card. "She said she'd never stoop so low," her husband said. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on April 30, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, new recruits of the Islamic State train in Mosul, northern Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Dec. 24, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group writes in Arabic, "we are a people whom God has honored with Islam," on a newly painted wall in Raqqa, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, a resident sits on a hill overlooking the town of Eski Mosul, Iraq. The hole next to him is a former grave that was opened up by the Islamic State group militants and used as a sniper hideout. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on July 2, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Iraqi men gather around Islamic State group officials to sign cards testifying that they have "repented" from their heretical past, in Mosul, northern Iraq. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, Salim Ahmed, a former Iraqi Army member, holds the "repentance card" he received from the Islamic State group in June 2014 shortly after the militants took over his home village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq. The document is part of the apparatus of control the Islamic State group has constructed across its self-declared "caliphate," the territory it conquered in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on May 14, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group's vice police known as "Hisba," right, reads a verdict handed down by an Islamic court sentencing many they accused of adultery to lashing, in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Jan. 14, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants kill a man they accused of being a homosexual by throwing him off a building in Syria's northeastern province of Hassakeh. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on March 7, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group destroys an icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the wall of a church in Mosul, Iraq. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Jan. 31, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, women in niqabs - enveloping black robes and veils that leaves only the eyes visible - sew niqabs, which are required for women in Islamic State-held territory, in a factory in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 10, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, two Syrian citizens, right, sit in the office of an inheritance judge of Islamic State group, in the town of al-Tabqa in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on April 17, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group's vice police known as "Hisba," patrols a market in Raqqa City, Syria. The Arabic words on the vest read, "The Islamic State - Hisba (vice police)." (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 10, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, two women sit in the office of an Islamic State group judge, center, at an Islamic court in al-Tabqa town in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on January 31, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, members of the Islamic State group, left, distribute niqabs, enveloping black robes and veils that leave only the eyes visible, to Iraqi women in Mosul, northern Iraq. In areas controlled by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, women must not only be covered, but usually are required to wear all black, with flat-soled shoes; for men, Western clothes or hair styles _even hair gel _ can draw suspicion. (Militant website via AP)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

While the genocide finding may make it easier for the United States to argue for greater action against the group, it does not create a legal obligation on the United States to do more.

On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "Acknowledging that genocide or crimes against humanity have taken place in another country would not necessarily result in any particular legal obligation for the United States."

READ MORE: ISIS using birth control to keep supply of sex slaves: NY Times

Islamic State militants have swept through Iraq and Syria in recent years, seizing control of large swathes of territory with an eye toward establishing jihadism in the heart of the Arab world.

The group's videos depict the violent deaths of people who stand in its way. Opponents have been beheaded, shot dead, blown up with fuses attached to their necks and drowned in cages lowered into swimming pools, with underwater cameras capturing their agony.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered air strikes against the group but has not made any large commitment of U.S. troops on the ground.

"It may strengthen our hand getting other countries to help. It may free us against some (legal) constraints, but the reality is that when you are fighting somebody, you don't need another reason to fight them," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.

RELATED: The fight against ISIS

10 PHOTOS
US Centcom new ISIS videos (updated March 2016)
See Gallery
ISIS committed genocide against Christians, Shi'ites: US
A Coalition airstrike destroys a Daesh weapons storage warehouse near Fallujah, Iraq to disrupt terrorist operations. The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the Daesh terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, and the wider international community. The destruction of Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the group's ability to project terror and conduct operations.
This video depicts a strike against an ISIL ammunition bunker near Bayji, Iraq. The strikes were conducted as part of Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project power and conduct operations. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition Nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the U.S., Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Airstrike against ISIL bunker conducted 4 November near Bayji, Iraq.
Operational video of a U.S. airstrike against an ISIL logistics base west of Mosul, Iraq Oct. 27
U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft conducted an airdrop Oct. 27 in the vicinity of Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, to provide humanitarian aid for delivery by Iraqi Security Forces to members of the Iraqi Albu Nimr tribe. The aircraft delivered more than 7,000 halal meals which were retrieved by ISF and delivered to the tribe who recently relocated from their homes near Hit, Iraq, to flee ISIL aggression. The C-130 aircraft, which are deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, exited the airdrop zone safely.
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

PREVENTIVE ACTION?

Kerry argued that the United States has done much to fight the group since the start of air strikes in 2014, but did not directly answer a question on why the Obama administration had not done more to prevent genocide.

Historians have asked the same question about Darfur and Rwanda, both places where the United States also concluded that genocide had taken place.

Islamic State militants have exploited the five-year civil war in Syria to seize areas in that country and in neighboring Iraq, though U.S. officials say their air strikes have markedly reduced the amount of territory the group controls in both.

On-again, off-again peace talks got under way this week in Geneva in an effort to end the civil war, in which at least 250,000 people have died and millions have fled their homes. A fragile "cessation of hostilities" has reduced, but not ended, the violence over the last two weeks.

RELATED: Cases involving ISIS terrorism

21 PHOTOS
ISIS, IS, ISIL beheading incidents, hostages
See Gallery
ISIS committed genocide against Christians, Shi'ites: US
FILE - In this Friday, May 27, 2011, file photo, journalist James Foley poses for a photo during an interview with The Associated Press in Boston. A memorial service is scheduled Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Foley's hometown of Rochester, N.H., on what would have been his 41st birthday. Foley was abducted in Syria on Thanksgiving Day 2012, and a video by Islamic State militants that purported to show his killing by the militant group was released Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

A screen grab from a video posted to YouTube by ISIS that claims to show journalist James Foley, who was abducted in 2012 while covering the Syria civil war, being beheaded.

(YouTube)

AKKAR, LEBANON - SEPTEMBER 3: Lebaneses carry the funeral of Lebanese soldier Ali al-Sayyed (28) who kidnapped by Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front members and killed by Islamic State members, in Akkar, Lebanon on 3 September, 2014. (Photo by Mahmud Saleh/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Execution of Steven Sotloff (1983 Â 2014) by Jihadi John of ISIS. In August 2013, Sotloff was kidnapped in Aleppo, Syria, and held captive by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Jihadi John (Mohammed Emwazi, born August 1988) a British man who is thought to be the person seen in several videos produced by the Islamic extremist group ISIL showing the beheadings of a number of captives in 2014 and 2015. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
This Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, a family of a missing Lebanese soldier who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants, sits on the ground as they block a street during a demonstration to demand action to secure the captives' release, in front the Lebanese government building, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. The mother of Lebanese soldier Abbas Medlej, held captive by the militant Islamic State group says that photographs posted online purporting to show his beheading appear real, on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. Militants, including from the Islamic State extremist group, seized around 30 soldiers and policemen after overrunning a Lebanese border town in early August. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
The garden of the house where David Haines, the British hostage beheaded by extremists, lived with his wife and four-year-old daughter in Sisak, central Croatia, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Haines is the third Westerner beheaded in recent weeks by the Islamic State group, which has seized vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. The first two were U.S. journalists. (AP Photo/Eldar Emric)
British Aid Worker David Haines (Photo via YouTube)
Mike Haines, the brother of David Haines who was murdered by Islamic State terrorists, outside Westminster Abbey, London, after he said that his brother did not want the Government to pay a ransom for his release - even if the other likely option was death.
Muslims hold a sign paying homage to French mountaineer Hervé Gourdel, his photo in the centre of the banner, who was beheaded by Islamist militants in Algeria, during a gathering in front of the Paris Grand Mosque, Friday Sept. 26, 2014. The gathering was part of demonstrations by French Muslims against the killings happening in the name of their religion. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2014, file photo, a Kurdish peshmerga soldier prays at a battle field in Mahmoudiyah, Iraq, after Kurdish fighters took control of the northern village from the Islamic State group. The group has released videos or pictures of beheadings of Kurdish fighters, including nine this past week who were captured in clashes near the Syria-Turkey border. All the images came out after the Islamic State group was attacked or suffered setbacks in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
Screen shot from an Internet video released Friday that purports to show an ISIS militant beheading British aid worker Alan Henning, who had been taken hostage by the extremist group.
MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 22: The order of service for the memorial service for murdered British aid worker Alan Henning at Eccles Parish Church on November 22, 2014 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The 47-year-old taxi driver was captured in December while delivering food and supplies to Syrian refugees and was murdered by Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria. (Photo by Andy Kelvin - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Yellow ribbons for murdered British hostage Alan Henning, are attached to trees in the town centre of Eccles, north west England on October 4, 2014. Britain reacted with horror on Saturday to the beheading of hostage Alan Henning, who many had dared to hope might be spared after a cross-community appeal for his release. Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes to the 47-year-old taxi driver who went to the region as a volunteer to deliver aid and whose death was announced by Islamic State jihadists in a video released late Friday. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian refugee Amjad Moghrabi stands in front of a photograph of his colleague, American aid worker Peter Kassig, 26, who converted to Islam while in captivity and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman Kassig, during an interview with The Associated Press in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. Kassig was helping victims of the Syrian civil war when he was captured in Syria last year and threatened with beheading by the Islamic State group. Arabic reads, "Justice for Abdul-Rahman." (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A passer-by watches a TV news program reporting two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto, left, and Haruna Yukawa, held by the Islamic State group, in Tokyo, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. Militants affiliated with the Islamic State group have posted an online warning that the "countdown has begun" for the group to kill a pair of Japanese hostages. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
AMMAN, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 2: Jordanian youth gather for a candle light vigil to condemn the killing of the two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, by the Islamic State (ISIS) group, in a gesture showing solidairity with Japanese people, in front of the Japanese embassy on February 2, 2015 in Amman, Jordan. (Photo by Jordan Pix/Getty Images)
FILE - In this file image made from a video released Sunday Feb. 15, 2015 by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to the Islamic State group purportedly shows Egyptian Coptic Christians in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The mass beheadings of Egyptian Christians by militants in Libya linked to the Islamic State group have thrown a spotlight on the threat the extremists pose beyond their heartland in Syria and Iraq, where they have established a self-declared proto-state. (AP Photo, File)
This image made from a militant video posted on a social media website on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, purports to show a militant standing next to another man who identifies himself as 30-year-old Tomislav Salopek, kneeling down as he reads a message at an unknown location. The video purportedly released by the Islamic State group threatens to kill the Croatian hostage if Egyptian authorities do not release "Muslim women" held in prison within 48 hours. (Militant website via AP)
The Italian, left, and European Union flags wave at half mast on the facade of the Scuderie del Quirinale museum in Rome, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. Italy's museums are waving their flags at half mast to honor Khaled al-Asaad, the 81-year-old antiquities scholar killed by ISIS militants. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

U.S. lawmakers urged Kerry last year to make a determination on whether atrocities committed by the militant group against Christians and other religious groups amounted to genocide.

The State Department earlier had predicted it would miss a deadline set for Thursday on this decision.

Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress, have been pressuring the Democratic Obama administration to call the militants' atrocities in Iraq and Syria acts of genocide. This week, one chamber, House of Representatives, passed a resolution labeling the group's violence against religious and ethnic minorities as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A U.S. administration has not made a genocide finding since 2004, when it determined genocide had occurred in Darfur and that the government of Sudan was responsible.

Asked if the genocide finding was likely to accentuate a view held by some that the West is engaged in a battle with Islam, a senior U.S. official noted that Kerry's determination included Shi-ite Muslims as well as Christians and Yazidis.

"A very large Muslim group is included in this," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The secretary isn't just singling out one group that has political support in the United States," he added, referring to Christians.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners