ISIS militants seize Iraq’s strategic town of Tal AfarBy AP | Last updated: Jun 22, 2014 - 10:51:19 PM
BAGHDAD - Militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on June 16, compounding the woes of Iraq’s government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north.
The town’s ethnic mix of mostly ethnic Shiite and Sunni Turkomen raises the grim specter of large-scale atrocities by Sunni militants from the Al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who already claim to have killed hundreds of Shiites in areas they captured the previous week.
Tal Afar’s capture came a week after Sunni militants took Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in a lightning offensive that has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.
A resident in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, confirmed the town’s fall and said over the telephone that militants in pickup trucks mounted with machineguns and flying black jihadi banners were roaming the streets as gunfire rang out.
The local security force left the town before dawn, said Hadeer al-Abadi, who spoke to the AP as he prepared to head out of town with his family. Local tribesmen who continued to fight later surrendered to the militants, he said.
“Residents are gripped by fear and most of them have already left the town for areas held by Kurdish security forces,” Mr. Al-Abadi said.
Tal Afar is only 93 miles from the border with Syria, where ISIS is fighting against President Bashar Assad’s government and controls territory abutting the Iraqi border. (AP)