The formerly Christian towns in northern Iraq liberated from Islamic State have been “destroyed” by jihadists who used a cathedral courtyard as a shooting range, according to a lawyer who visited them.

Vienna-based legal counsel Ewelina Ochab, author of Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East, paid visits to Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles in the Nineveh Plains, a month after they were liberated from two and a half years’ occupation by Islamic State jihadists late last year.

The thoroughness of the destruction in the three towns signalled that IS had been determined to wipe out all trace of Christianity in the region, she said: “Daesh [IS] looted one house after another without leaving any stone unturned. The houses, churches, schools and shops are looted, burnt down and some structurally damaged.

“In the churches, all crosses were broken. Where crosses were sculpt[ed] on the walls, Daesh scratched them out. Now you can see only the marks on the walls made by sharp objects. The statues of Mary and Jesus were damaged. Most of them were lacking heads, as if Daesh fighters were beheading the statues too. Rosaries were torn apart. All of them were missing crosses. Altars full of rubble. Benches burnt. Walls black from smoke.

“Daesh specifically intended to destroy Christianity in the area. This is genocide.”

The cathedral courtyard in the town of Qaraqosh was turned into a shooting range, with bullet shells littering the ground amid burnt Bibles and other religious books. In her eyewitness account, published on 30 Jan by American magazine Forbes, she described how IS fighters put three mannequins from a local tailor’s shop in front of the pillars leading to prayer rooms.

“Hundreds if not thousands of bullets must have been fired into the mannequins, most of them missing the mannequins and making their way into the pillars and the walls,” she said.