Iraqi security forces display vehicles, weapons and ammunition confiscated from the Sunni militant group 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) in Samarra, June 6, 2014. — Photo by Reuters
RAMADI: Militants took hundreds of students and staff hostage at a university in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Saturday, sparking an assault led by special forces in which they were freed, officials said.
And in northern Iraq, heavy fighting between security forces and militants entered a second day, killing another 59 people.
Iraq is suffering its worst violence in years, and militants have launched major operations in multiple 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 Anbar University from the nearby Al-Tasha area, killed its guards and then blew up a bridge leading to its main gate, police said.
A journalist said special forces spearheaded an assault to retake the campus, sparking clashes involving heavy gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
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.
And interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said that all of the hostages had been freed, without giving casualty figures.
The journalist saw security forces bring in buses to take weeping hostages away from one of the women’s dorms, but said fighting at the university continued afterwards. Police officers put the number of hostages at the start of the incident at 2,500, though that figure could not be independently confirmed.
Before security forces moved in, a student told journalists by telephone from inside the university that she and other women were ordered to gather in one place, after which the militants’ leader addressed them.
“We will teach you a lesson you will never forget,” he said, according to the student’s account.
The student said the militant branded the university a “brothel” where women wore makeup, listened to music and mixed with men.
In the northern city of Mosul, fighting between militants and security forces claimed the lives of 21 police personnel and 38 militants, an officer and mortuary employee said.
Dr Mohammed Khalaf said the morgue where he works in the city had received 80 bodies since Friday, and had no space for more.
Fighting erupted 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 surrounding 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.
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2014