Fresh influx of Isis fighters expected in Europe as fighters flee Mosul
Europe warned: get ready for serious Isis threat
Europe must prepare for a fresh influx of 'Islamic State' jihadists fleeing Mosul as the army moves in, the EU's security commissioner has warned.
"The retaking of Isis' northern Iraq stronghold, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent fighters," Julian King said. "This is a very serious threat and we must be prepared to face it."
He added that even a handful of jihadists returning would pose a "serious threat that we must prepare ourselves for" and the risk should not be underestimated.
The warning comes as the much-anticipated battle for Mosul entered its second day.
Iraqi forces are advancing in an offensive aimed at retaking Mosul and dealing a death blow to Isis' "caliphate" in the city where it was declared two years ago. A small number of jihadists are putting up a fight against the advancing Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the villages leading up to the city, but there are reports fighters in the city are defecting in growing numbers.
The US coalition yesterday targeted Isil pick-up trucks seen heading out towards the Syrian border. Residents inside Mosul said that scores of jihadists had defected in recent weeks and more than 50 have fled since the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the start of the offensive on Monday morning. "They wait until the night and leave by car. They are going to al-Ba'aj in the west of Mosul, then on to the Iraq-Syria border, where they continue to Syria and Turkey," one resident said.
The resident said the families of Isil fighters have also moved to the western side of the city to protect them from attacks by the Iraqi forces.
Steven Nabil, who has family inside Mosul, said that phone lines had been re-established inside the city for the first time in months on Monday by the Iraqi government, and residents are sending the coalition "hundreds of messages" with Isil fighters' locations.
There had been reports last week that the US, which is supporting the Iraqi army on the ground and in the air, could decide not to completely encircle the city and allow fighters out through the western side in an attempt to avoid greater civilian casualties.
Should that happen, the jihadists - with no major territory left in Iraq - would move across the border to Syria, where they will either join the fight against president Bashar al-Assad forces or travel on to Turkey or Europe.
There has been a growing backlash amongst the 1.5 million residents in the city against Isil. A small number of resistance fighters known as the Kataib al-Mosul group led a brief uprising in various parts of the city.
At least 20 members were killed and their cars burned yesterday.
Residents of Mosul said Isil was using civilians as human shields as Iraqi and Kurdish forces captured outlying villages in their advance on the jihadists' stronghold.
The leader of Isil and one of its main explosives experts were reported to be among thousands of the hardline militants still in Mosul, suggesting the group would go to great lengths to fend off any ground attack within the city limits.
With the attacking forces still between 20km and 50km away, residents reached by telephone said more than 100 families had started moving from southern and eastern suburbs most exposed to the offensive to more central parts of the city.
Isil militants were preventing people fleeing, they said, and one said they directed some towards buildings they had recently used themselves.
"It's quite clear Daesh (Isil) has started to use civilians as human shields by allowing families to stay in buildings likely to be targeted by air strikes," said Abu Mahir, who lives near the city's university and offered food to the displaced. (© Daily Telegraph London)