Isil 'using foreign fighters for atrocities in Mosul'

Ben Farmer
A car bomb exploding next to Iraqi army vehicles during fighting to liberate Mosul - AP

Foreign fighters such as British jihadists are being used by retreating Islamic State group commanders to commit atrocities during desperate fighting for Mosul, it has been claimed.

Jihadists who have travelled from abroad to join Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) are being used as a final line of defence because of their indifference towards local residents, the international military coalition has alleged.

Col John Dorrian, spokesman for the international military coalition fighting Isil, said on Thursday that up to 1,000 Isil fighters remain in Mosul, down from an estimated 8,000 at the start of the campaign. They include a “significant group” of foreign jihadists.

He said the foreign fighters were often committed to fighting to the death and felt little solidarity with the residents of the Iraqi city.

He said: “One of the things we have seen repeated throughout the campaign is that as Isil leaders begin to leave areas that they expect to lose, what they like to do is to leave foreign fighters behind, because foreign fighters have no reluctance whatsoever to treat civilians that are in the area very, very poorly and to use the scorched earth tactics that we have seen before.

“What we are seeing now in the centre of Mosul is Isis using things like chemical weapons, they are using brutal control measures, they are executing people for trying to leave. These are the types of things that are very easy to do when it’s not your neighbours or people you have grown up with.”

FAQ | The battle for Mosul

Several hundred Britons are estimated to be still inside Isil’s self-styled caliphate and up to 150 are believed to have been killed fighting with jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria in the past five years.

The flood of hundreds of jihadists who were flocking each month to join Isil’s self-styled caliphate two years ago has dried up as the international coalition has cut routes in.

As the caliphate shrinks, he said some jihadists were attempting to flee back to Europe, but were being killed or picked up by local Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish forces surrounding their shrinking enclave.

He said: “They are isolated and they have to move through a significant amount of territory that’s controlled by either our ally Turkey or our partnered force the Syrian defence forces in Syria, or Iraqi security forces.”

Meanwhile Iraqi paramilitary units captured the northern province of Hatra on Thursday, cutting off several desert tracks used by Islamic State to move between Iraq and Syria, the military.

Hatra, a city that flourished in the first century AD, lies 80 miles south of Mosul, where the militants have been fighting off a US-backed offensive since October.

Isil militants are now surrounded in the northwestern part of Mosul, including the Old City and its landmark Grand al-Nuri Mosque from where their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared in mid-2014 a caliphate also spanning parts of Syria.

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