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Associated Press
Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community settle at a new camp near the Syria-Iraq border on Friday.

Militants attack Yazidis after rescue called off

– Extremist fighters swarmed into a besieged Yazidi village Friday and killed or captured dozens of residents, according to Yazidis and Kurdish commanders, offering a reminder that the ancient minority sect is still in danger despite President Barack Obama’s conclusion that the risk had passed for a group stranded on Mount Sinjar.

Islamic State militants surged into Kocho, on the nearby Sinjar Plain, after a weeklong siege in which the al-Qaida-inspired group demanded that residents convert to Islam or face death, said the reports, which could not be independently verified.

The men were rounded up and executed, while the women were taken to an undisclosed location, said Ziad Sinjar, a pesh merga commander based on the edge of Mount Sinjar, citing the accounts of villagers nearby. He put the number of dead at 42 and said 80 women and children had been taken from the village.

Yazidi activists said at least 80 men were killed and hundreds of women taken away.

The accounts could not be independently confirmed, or the conflicting numbers reconciled, but fears had been growing for the welfare of Yazidis trapped in the village since the Islamic State siege began last Thursday.

The U.S. Central Command said Friday that it had carried out a drone strike south of the town of Sinjar after receiving reports of an attack in the area. The drone “struck and destroyed two vehicles,” it said.

The alleged killings came a day after Obama called off plans for a military evacuation of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, saying they were no longer at risk. If confirmed, they would constitute the worst single atrocity committed against the Yazidis since the Aug. 3 assault on Sinjar triggered a humanitarian crisis and contributed to the Obama administration’s decision to intervene.

Obama declared Thursday that the U.S. effort “broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar.” A team of U.S. Special Forces and aid officials dispatched to the mountain Wednesday concluded that the intervention had dispelled the imminent threat to the lives of Yazidis, he said.

But although the airstrikes appear to have helped those trapped on the mountain reach safety, people who did not join the initial exodus are still at risk, Yazidis say.

“The sole mission of the airstrikes was to protect the people on the mountain, not to free anyone outside the mountain,” said Murad Ismael, a Yazidi activist based in Washington.

Kocho lies south of the town of Sinjar, from which the exodus took place, and many residents were unable to join the scramble to flee because they found themselves cut off by the Islamic State advance, according to Yazidi refugees in northern Iraq.

After the Islamic State fighters surrounded the village last week, they issued a deadline of Sunday, which was extended to Monday, then extended again several times more as the week wore on.

On Friday, the fighters moved in.

Ismael said he believed the Islamic State was emboldened to strike against the village after Obama called off the evacuation plan.

“They did not kill them when there was air coverage,” he said. “They started killing only after Obama said the siege is over. They got the message and decided to kill these people.”