As militant leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria continue to seize control of towns in northwestern Iraq, a grim discovery was made on Wednesday just south of Baghdad. According to Al Jazeera, Iraqi security forces uncovered a mass grave of 53 bodies in Khamissiya, a predominately Shia village located in the Babil province. The corpses were reportedly blindfolded and handcuffed, signifying a mass execution. Local officials confirmed the discovery of the bodies, but could not provide any information about the dead.
Agence-France Presse reported that the bodies were all men. They were killed by gunshots wound to either the head or the chest, and a mortuary official claimed the killings took place at least one week ago.
Although the Babil province has endured many brutal ISIS attacks over the last month, the village where the mass grave was discovered has been relatively peaceful. According to the AFP, the gravesite was not close to any recent violence.
Al Jazeera correspondent Imran Khan said the discovery of the bodies has sparked fear and anxiety in the region, which was the center of deadly Shia-Sunni battles in 2006 and 2007. "A lot of people are very nervous," Khan told Al Jazeera. "What authorities are worried about now are revenge attacks."
ISIS insurgents have been steadily gaining ground across northern and western Iraq over the last month, pushing toward the capital of Baghdad. On Wednesday, it was confirmed that ISIS leaders seized control of a chemical weapons facility just north of Baghdad. Iraq confirmed the takeover in a letter sent to the United Nations this week.
The facility reportedly has 2,500 decades-old chemical rockets, as well as other chemical warfare agents. However, the U.S. government has said it doesn't believe these weapons are a threat to national security.
Last week, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a video declaring a "caliphate" from Syria to Iraq and called all Muslims to obey his orders. He recorded his sermon from a mosque in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city that was captured by the militants in June.
"I am the wali [leader] who presides over you, though I am not the best of you, so if you see that I am right, assist me," al-Baghdadi said in the video. "If you see that I am wrong, advise me and put me on the right track, and obey me as long as I obey God in you."