"The 'Emo phenomenon' or devil worshiping is being followed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate [the phenomenon] as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger," the statement read.
"They wear strange, tight clothes that have pictures on them such as skulls and use stationary that are shaped as skulls. They also wear rings on their noses and tongues, and do other strange activities," it continued.
Religious extremists caught onto the interior ministry statement, and have been harassing and killing teenagers with Western or "emo" appearances. A group of armed men dressed in civilian clothing led dozens of teenagers to secluded areas a few days ago, stoned them to death, and then disposed their bodies in garbage dumpsters across the capital, according to activists.
The armed men are said to belong to “one of the most extremist religious groups” in Iraq.
“First they throw concrete blocks at the boy's arms, then at his legs, then the final blow is to his head, and if he is not dead then, they start all over again,” one person who managed to escape told Al-Akhbar.
Iraq's moral police was granted approval by the Ministry of Education to enter Baghdad schools and pinpoint students with Western appearances, according to the interior ministry's statement. The exact death toll remains unclear, but Hana al-Bayaty of Brussels Tribunal, an NGO dealing with Iraqi issues, said the current figure ranges "between 90 and 100."
"What's most disturbing about this is that they're so young," she said.
Al-Bayaty said the killings appear to have been carried out by extremist Shia militias in mostly poor Shia neighborhoods and said she suspected "there's complicity of the Ministry of Interior in the killings."Photos of the victims were released on Facebook, causing panic and fear among Iraqi students. A young man with long hair expressed alarm at the government-ordained harassment of teenagers with Western appearances.
“I have long hair but that doesn't mean I'm an Emo. I'm not less of a man if I have long hair. Let's not say that if I have long hair, I'm a homosexual, but I have long hair because this is my style, this is me," he told Iraq's Al-Sharqiya television network.
Safiyyah al-Suhail, an MP, said on Thursday that "some students have been recently arrested because they were wearing American jeans or had Western haircuts."
The interior ministry has not disclosed the number of teenage victims, but released a follow-up statement on Thursday warning extremists "not to step on public freedom of Iraqis."
News of the gruesome deaths drew a stern reaction from Iraq's prominent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who criticized the stoning of the young men as "an act of terrorism."
The Director of the Moral Police of the Interior Ministry released a statement, saying "The 'Emo phenomenon' or devil worshiping is being followed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate [the phenomenon] as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger."
He added: "The Ministry of Interior took this situation very seriously and received an approval from the Ministry of Education to set a plan under my full supervision and to allow us to enter schools in the capital."
"There are some cases of the spread of this phenomenon specifically among schools in Baghdad, but we are facing great difficulty in the lack of women on the force who would allow us to carry the investigation more accurately since the phenomenon is also popular among girls between the ages of 14 and 18."
"They wear strange, tight clothes that have pictures on them such as skulls and use stationary that are shaped as skulls. They also wear rings on their noses and tongues, and do other strange activities."