WORLD IS cor­nered as Iraqis tar­get last ji­hadists

Townsville Bulletin - - WORLD -

TWO hooded gun­men have opened fire on a crowd out­side a mosque in France, in­jur­ing sev­eral and spark­ing a ma­jor po­lice op­er­a­tion.

Au­thor­i­ties placed the scene, in the city of Avi­gnon in the coun­try’s south, in lock­down and launched a man­hunt for the at­tack­ers, who fled.

Wit­nesses say the men, wear­ing hoods, ar­rived at Ar­rahma mosque in a Re­nault Clio around 10.30pm lo­cal time ( 6.30am AEST), leapt out and be­gan fir­ing at ran­dom.

One was armed with a hand­gun and the other with a ri­fle, lo­cal news­pa­per La Provence re­ports.

Ac­cord­ing to La Provence, po­lice have dis­missed the pos­si­bil­ity it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack. It quoted a mag­is­trate as say­ing the likely mo­tive was “a set­tling of ac­counts or a quar­rel be­tween young peo­ple”. IRAQI forces were bat­tling the last few hun­dred Is­lamic State ji­hadists in Mo­sul’s his­toric cen­tre yes­ter­day as they pressed the fi­nal stages of an as­sault to drive the ter­ror­ists from the city.

More than eight months since the op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul was launched, IS has gone from fully con­trol­ling the city to hold­ing a few neigh­bour­hoods on its western side.

“The num­ber is ... more or less 300 fighters, most of them of Euro­pean na­tion­al­i­ties, Arabs of other na­tion­al­i­ties or of Asian ori­gin,” Staff Bri­gadier Gen­eral Nabil alFat­lawi, a com­man­der in the elite Counter- Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice ( CTS), said.

“We are not able to spec­ify when the bat­tles will end be­cause of the nar­row type of streets in the Old City and also the pres­ence of civil­ian de­tainees,” Brig Fat­lawi said, re­fer­ring to res­i­dents be­ing used as hu­man shields by IS. “But I can say within days.”

Ear­lier in the day, Iraq’s Joint Oper­a­tions Com­mand an­nounced CTS forces had re­cap­tured the Makawi area of the Old City, in a fur­ther blow at the heart of the ji­hadists’ cross- bor­der “caliphate”.

Iraqi forces have been clos­ing in on the Old City for months, but its nar­row streets and closely spaced build­ings com­bined with a large civil­ian pop­u­la­tion made for an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult fight. Se­cu­rity forces re­cap­tured a series of nearby dis­tricts, cor­ner­ing the IS fighters, and launched an as­sault in­side the Old City on June 18.

They have since made sig­nif­i­cant progress. On Sun­day, of­fi­cers an­nounced the re­cap­ture of a hospi­tal and its sur­round­ings north of the Old City, re­mov­ing a nearby pocket of IS re­sis­tance.

On Fri­day, Iraqi forces re­took the re­mains of the Grand Mosque of al- Nuri in their great­est sym­bolic vic­tory since the bat­tle be­gan.

IS chief Abu Bakr alBagh­dadi gave a tri­umphal ser­mon at the mosque af­ter the ji­hadists cap­tured Mo­sul in 2014.

The mosque thus be­came a sym­bol of Bagh­dadi’s rule and IS’s “caliphate”.

The ji­hadists made sure that the Nuri mosque was not cap­tured in­tact, blow­ing it up as Iraqi forces closed in.

TRI­UMPHANT: Iraqi fed­eral po­lice and chil­dren cel­e­brate the end of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions against Is­lamic State fighters in the Old City of Mo­sul. Pic­ture: AFP

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