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Hostages on Iraq campus, 59 killed in north

RAMADI, Iraq--Jihadists took students and staff hostage at Anbar University in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Saturday, while fighting between security forces and militants in a northern city killed 59 people.

Iraq is suffering its worst violence in years, and militants have launched major operations in three provinces in recent days that have killed well over 100 people and highlighted their long reach.

In Ramadi, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gunmen infiltrated the university from the nearby Al-Tasha area, killed its guards and then blew up a bridge leading to its main gate, police said.

An AFP journalist said special forces later spearheaded an assault to retake the campus, with heavy gunfire heard.

Security forces “liberated all of the male and female student hostages from the dormitories in Anbar University” and regained control of checkpoints at its entrances, Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi said in an emailed statement.

But he did not refer to the fate of university staff, and it was unclear if the assault was over or if some other areas remained under militant control.

'Never forget'

Before the military assault began, a student told AFP by telephone from inside the university that she and other women were ordered to gather in one place, after which the leader of the militants addressed them.

“We will teach you a lesson you will never forget,” he said, according to the student's account.

In the northern city of Mosul, heavy fighting between militants and security forces entered its second day on Saturday, killing 21 police and 38 militants, an officer and mortuary employee said.

Fighting erupted in Mosul on Friday morning and continued into the night, while twin suicide bombings targeted a minority group east of the city, and soldiers shot dead suicide bombers to its south.

At least 36 people were killed in Friday's violence in Mosul and elsewhere in Nineveh province.

A day earlier, militants seized several parts of Samarra in a major assault that was only repelled after house-to-house fighting and helicopter strikes in which dozens died.

A crisis broke out in the desert province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, in December when security forces dismantled a longstanding Sunni Arab protest camp near provincial capital Ramadi.

Anti-government fighters subsequently seized control of parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, to its east, and security forces have so far failed to drive them out.

The United Nations said on Friday that the conflict in Anbar is believed to have forced nearly 480,000 people from their homes.

They join some 1.1 million others displaced by past years of violence in Iraq.

Violence is running at its highest levels since 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed in sectarian conflict between Iraq's Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.

More than 900 people were killed last month, according to figures separately compiled by the United Nations and the government.

So far this year, more than 4,300 people have been killed, according to AFP figures.

Officials blame external factors for the rising bloodshed, particularly the civil war in neighboring Syria.

But analysts say widespread Sunni Arab anger with the Shiite-led government has also been a major factor.

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