ISIL takes more Turkish drivers hostage in northern Iraq as 500,000 flee Mosul
Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 10, 2014. Radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of most of Iraq's second largest city of Mosul early on Tuesday, overrunning a military base and freeing hundreds of prisoners in a spectacular strike against the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government. REUTERS/StringerThe number of Turkish truck drivers taken hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Iraq has risen from 28 to 32 on June 11. Islamist militants continue their offensive one day after they effectively took control of Mosul, the country's second-largest city as reports said that fighting resulted in a high number of casualties, with half a million people displaced.
Officials in Suleiman Bek town in Saladin province said that scores of ISIL militants had poured in as police forces abandoned their posts, Anadolu Agency reported. Iraqi security sources who spoke to Reuters, on the other hand, told that Sunni militants have pushed into Iraqi town of Baiji, which is the site of a major oil refinery.
Taleb al-Biati, a local official, told Anadolu Agency that an unspecified number of policemen were killed and injured in clashes with the militants near the road connecting Baghdad and Kirkuk, which is another oil-rich town in the north.
A police commander in the nearby Tuz Khormato town, also in Saladin, said that enforcements of Kurdish peshmerga forces were deployed to defend the town against any possible attack by ISIL gunmen.
Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration said around half a million Iraqis had fled their homes in Mosul following the city's fall, fearing increased violence.
The Geneva-based organisation said its sources on the ground estimated the violence leading up to ISIL's total takeover "displaced over 500,000 people in and around the city."
The violence in Mosul "has resulted in a high number of casualties among civilians," the IOM added.
Gül concerned about power vacuums
Commenting on the crisis, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said de facto situations should not be allowed in the region. “There should be no gaps left, if you leave gaps, they will be filled with these kind of things,” Gül said, referring to militant groups. He also added that ties between Turkey and Iraq were not currently at their desired level, and urged further consultations.
The ISIL now poses a threat across the Middle East, according to AFP. Known for its ruthless tactics and suicide bombers, ISIL has already controlled the Iraqi city of Fallujah for five months, and is also arguably the most capable force fighting President Bashar al-Assad inside Syria.
Its takeover of Mosul on June 10 prompted the United States to voice deep concern about the "extremely serious" situation and warn the jihadist Sunni group poses "a threat to the entire region."
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said he was "gravely concerned by the serious deteriorating of the security situation in Mosul."
ISIL is led by the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and backed by thousands of Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq, many of them Westerners, and it appears to be surpassing Al-Qaeda as the world’s most dangerous jihadist group.
Western governments fear it could eventually emulate al-Qaeda and strike overseas, but their biggest worry for now is likely the eventual return home of foreign fighters attracted by ISIL and Baghdadi.
The Soufan Group, a New York-based consultancy, estimates that 12,000 foreign fighters have travelled to Syria, including 3,000 from the West.
And ISIL appears to have the greatest appeal, with King’s College London Professor Peter Neumann estimating around 80 percent of Western fighters in Syria have joined the group.
Unlike other groups fighting Assad, ISIL is seen working towards an ideal Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq. And compared with Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, Al-Nusra Front, it has lower entry barriers.
ISIL has also sought to appeal to non-Arabs, recently publishing two English-language magazines, having already released videos in English, or with English subtitles.
The jihadist group claims to have had fighters from the Britain, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the United States, and from the Arab world and the Caucasus.
Much of the appeal also stems from Baghdadi himself -- the ISIL leader is touted as a battlefield commander and tactician, a crucial distinction compared with Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"For the last 10 years or more, (Zawahiri) has been holed up in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and hasn’t really done very much more than issue a few statements and videos," said Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief at MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service.
"Whereas Baghdadi has done an amazing amount -- he has captured cities, he has mobilised huge amounts of people, he is killing ruthlessly throughout Iraq and Syria.
"If you were a guy who wanted action, you would go with Baghdadi," Barrett told AFP.
Baghdadi apparently joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 US-led invasion.
In October 2005, American forces said they believed they had killed "Abu Dua," one of Baghdadi’s known aliases, in a strike on the Iraq-Syria border.
But that appears to have been incorrect, as he took the reins of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, in May 2010 after two of its chiefs were killed in a US-Iraqi raid.
Since then, details about him have slowly trickled out.
In October 2011, the US Treasury designated him as a "terrorist" in a notice that said he was born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971.
And earlier this year, Iraq released a picture they said was of Baghdadi, the first from an official source, depicting a balding, bearded man in a suit and tie.
At the time Baghdadi took over, his group appeared to be on the ropes, after "the surge" of US forces combined with the shifting allegiances of Sunni tribesmen to deal him a blow.
But the group has bounced back, expanding into Syria in 2013.
Baghdadi sought to merge with Al-Nusra, which rejected the deal, and the two groups have operated separately since.
Zawahiri has urged ISIL to focus on Iraq and leave Syria to Al-Nusra, but Baghdadi and his fighters have openly defied the Al-Qaeda chief and, indeed, have fought not only Assad, but also Al-Nusra and other rebel groups.