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satellite-693222_1280In a trial which ended last Wednesday in Iraq, 24 people were found guilty of a massacre done by Islamic State soldiers in the city of Tikrit in Iraq about a year ago. The defendants, who were recognized by the court as being part of the Sunni terror army which has executed countless shiite muslims in the country, were sentenced to death by hanging for their active participation in the massacre.

The court has reached a decision although no side knows the number of people who were killed in the massacre. However, the prosecution used several different technological platforms in order to establish its case and to bring evidence which, even if fail to account for exact numbers, tell of the size of the crime. In fact, the massacre was so terrible that visual evidence was seen in satellite imagery presented by Human Rights Watch in the trial. The prosecution presented an aerial image of the city of Tikrit from a satellite company who provided them with an image from 2013, then compared it with an image taken shortly after the massacre to establish a specific location of two trenches where victims are said to have been executed. Combining those images with photos posted by the Islamic State to social networks, the prosecution could estimate that 90-110 people were killed in the first trench and 35-40 in the second.

trenchesThe difficulty of acquiring documentation for attacks like this is nothing new to human rights groups who are trying to raise public awareness to atrocities commited in areas with limited public access. Last January human rights groups and Amnesty International used satellites in order to estimate the crimes done by Boko Haram extremists in Nigeria. In 2012 satellites were used to document mass killings of Muslims in Myanmar.

Satellite imagery are widely used as evidence in trials of crimes concerning big populations, the results of which can be seen from the air. Visual evidence as these will be quite useful if terror organizations, which are active today in most places in the world, will be brought to an international trial to account for their actions.