2 min read
Forensic Trainers Visit Raqqa, Assess Potential for Missing Persons Identifications

Forensic Trainers Visit Raqqa, Assess Potential for Missing Persons Identifications

Last month, two forensic experts from the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) travelled to Raqqa and Qamishli to meet with the Syrian Missing Persons and Forensic Team (SMFT) as well as SJAC’s missing persons documentation team. This was the first time in the five years since the territorial defeat of ISIS that international forensic experts have entered Northeast Syria to assess the situation and the potential to identify human remains. Thousands of civilians who disappeared during ISIS’s rule are yet to be found, however, since 2018, over 6,000 unidentified bodies have been exhumed from graves in and around Raqqa. Hundreds of these bare the marks of field executions and are thought to be victims of ISIS. Tens of additional grave openings have been on hold since SJAC paused exhumations in 2020 until a comprehensive exhumation strategy could be developed.

During the trip, FAFG trainers visited the SMFT’s office, several gravesites including those at Firusiyya and Maqla, and the infamous ‘Black Stadium’ ISIS prison (Point 11), all of which are visible on SJAC’s map of known ISIS prisons and graves.

The FAFG also met with families who are searching for their loved ones kidnapped by ISIS. Despite the difficult context, FAFG was optimistic about the potential for future identifications. However, identifications are still years away, as extensive work and local capacity building is required.

FAFG visits Firusiyya Mass Grave

The trip also served as an opportunity for hands-on training, allowing the SMFT to practice skills developed through remote sessions held by the FAFG. The SMFT’s Identifications team received a training in osteology in their newly furnished forensic lab where the analysis of human remains will help establish cause of death. The FAFG also trained team members on the use of new equipment received during the trip, which will assist the team in accurately determining the sex of skeletal remains. Additionally, SJAC’s own documentation team received an initial training on how to collect DNA reference samples from families of missing persons.

A group of people wearing masks

Description automatically generated
The FAFG visits SMFT’s Forensics Lab

For now, SJAC and the SMFT continue to focus on documenting missing persons cases and conducting contextual investigations of graves and prisons. This work is laying the foundation for future  DNA analysis to identify the victims of ISIS and give closure to the families of missing persons.


For more information or to provide feedback, please contact SJAC at [email protected] and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to SJAC’s newsletter for updates on our work