MIDEAST > Mainly ethnic Turkmen town Telafer in north Iraq falls to ISIL militants: Official

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse

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Iraqi Shiite Turkmen Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Tel Afar arrive to Shangal, in Nineveh province. REUTERS Photo

Iraqi Shiite Turkmen Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Tel Afar arrive to Shangal, in Nineveh province. REUTERS Photo

The mainly ethnic Turkmen town of Tel Afer and its airport were in the hands of Sunni Arab militants on June 23 after days of heavy fighting, a local official and witnesses said.

"The town of Tel Afer and the airport ... are completely under the control of the militants," the official said on condition of anonymity. Witnesses said security forces had departed the town, and confirmed that militants were in control.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's security spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta, said on television that security forces were still fighting in the Telafer area. But he added: "Even if we withdrew from Tel Afer or any other area, this does not mean that it is a defeat."    

Tel Afer, which is located along a strategic corridor to Syria, had been the largest town in the northern province of Nineveh not to fall to militants.

A major militant offensive, spearheaded by jihadists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but involving a raft of other Sunni groups as well, began in Nineveh's capital Mosul on June 9.

The militants took Mosul the following day, swept through Nineveh and took major parts of four more provinces as well.

Meanwhile, some 69 detainees were killed in a militant attack on an Iraqi convoy transporting them in an area south of Baghdad on June 23.

One policeman and eight gunmen were also killed in clashes that erupted during the attack in the Hashimiyah area of Babil province, according to a police captain and a doctor. It was not immediately clear how the detainees died.

It is the second instance of a large number of detainees being killed since the start of ISIL's offensive. At least 44 prisoners were killed during a militant assault on a prison in the city of Baquba last week.

Accounts differed as to who was responsible for the Baquba killings, with Prime Minister al-Maliki's security spokesman saying the prisoners were killed by insurgents carrying out the attack, and other officials saying they were killed by security forces as they tried to escape.

June/23/2014

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