Jihadists 'shave beards' as pressure builds on Mosul

2016-10-26 14:29
Men wait behind a fenced area where they are interrogated before being allowed to stay, at the Dibaga Camp for displaced people (File,AP)

Men wait behind a fenced area where they are interrogated before being allowed to stay, at the Dibaga Camp for displaced people (File,AP)

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Khazir - Islamic State group fighters were shaving their beards and changing hideouts in Mosul, residents said, as Iraqi forces moved ever closer to the city on Wednesday and civilians fled in growing numbers.

Reached by AFP inside Mosul, several residents said the jihadists seemed to be preparing for an assault after recent advances on the eastern front brought elite Iraqi forces to within 5km of city limits.

"I saw some Daesh (IS) members and they looked completely different from the last time I saw them," said a resident of eastern Mosul who gave his name as Abu Saif.

"They had trimmed their beards and changed their clothes," the former businessman said. "They must be scared... they are also probably preparing to escape the city."

Residents and military officials said many IS fighters had relocated from eastern Mosul to their traditional bastions on the western bank of the Tigris river, closer to escape routes to Syria.

Troop advance

READ: UN says wave of ISIS atrocities reported near Mosul

The sounds of fighting on the northern and eastern fronts of the Mosul offensive could now be heard inside the city, residents said, and US-led coalition aircraft were flying lower over the city than usual.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters have been advancing on Mosul from the south, east and north after an offensive was launched on October 17 to retake the last major Iraqi city under IS control.

The assault is being backed with air and ground support from the US-led coalition which launched its campaign against IS two years ago, shortly after the jihadists seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi federal forces, allied with Kurdish peshmerga fighters, have taken a string of towns and villages in a cautious but steady advance over the last week in the face of shelling, sniper fire and suicide car bombings.

Some 3 000 to 5 000 IS fighters are believed to be inside Mosul, Iraq's second city, alongside more than a million trapped civilians.

Aid workers have warned of a major potential humanitarian crisis once fighting begins inside the city itself.

An Iraqi minister said Wednesday that more than 3 300 civilians fleeing the fighting had sought help from the government the day before, the most for a single day so far.

Displaced people

There was "a big wave of displaced people that is considered the greatest number since the start of the military operation to liberate Nineveh province", Displacement and Migration Minister Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff said in a statement.

Numbers of displaced residents were growing but stood at a relatively low 8 940 on Wednesday, according to a UN tally, because most of the fighting so far has taken place in sparsely populated areas.

Civilians in villages on the eastern outskirts of Mosul were being bused to a camp near Khazir, an AFP correspondent reported.

"The army made us get out, they told us to leave and said we would see about the details of our settlement" in a camp, said Umm Ali, a 35-year-old woman.

"We used to live in terror night and day, the shelling was coming closer. The Islamic State controlled our lives, so we decided to flee," said Essam Saadou, a 22-year-old student.

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Read more on:    is  |  iraq  |  security

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