ISIL begins mass slaughter in Mosul
Islamic State reportedly shoots hundreds of men and boys as it rounds up families to use as human shields
ISIL forces reportedly massacred hundreds of men and boys in Mosul yesterday as fears grow that families are being used as human shields against approaching Iraqi-led forces.
The jihadist group rounded up and shot 284 men and boys before dumping their bodies in a mass grave in northern Mosul, according to CNN.
They were reportedly lined up and shot on the grounds of a former agricultural college, where young Iraqis were once taught how to grow food in their country's punishing climate, and then buried by a bulldozer.
The alleged massacre came after the UN voiced fears for 550 families who had been seized from nearby villages this week and marched into Mosul.
"We are gravely worried by reports that Isil is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties," said Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"There is a grave danger that Isil fighters will not only use such vulnerable people as human shields but may opt to kill them rather than see them liberated."
Ravina Shamdasani, a UN spokesman citing "verified information" from local contacts, said 200 families were forced to walk to Mosul from Samalia village on Monday, while another 350 families left Najafia village for Mosul on the same day.
"This would seem to indicate that the reason for these moves is to use them for the purposes of human shields," she said.
Meanwhile, toxic fumes released when jihadists torched a sulphur plant near Mosul earlier this week killed two Iraqi civilians and forced US troops at a nearby base to wear masks.
The smoke plume slowed down the movement of Iraqi troops, Gen Qusay Hamid Kadhem told the AFP news agency. Hospital sources reported that nearly 1,000 people were treated for breathing problems.
Ash Carter, the US Secretary of Defence, made an unscheduled stop in Baghdad so he could be briefed on the progress of coalition forces as they closed on Mosul. He was due to meet Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and senior military officials.
Carter's visit was meant partly to try to smooth over tensions between Iraq and Turkey, who have been at odds over the Mosul operation.
Turkey has insisted that its forces should play a role in the assault on Mosul but Iraq has so far firmly resisted any Turkish presence. The Iraqi prime minister reiterated his opposition after the meeting, saying: "I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul and the rest of the territories."
Iraqi security forces also continued to battle Isil fighters who had attacked the city of Kirkuk. A small force of gunmen and suicide bombers struck inside the city, which is 160km southeast of Mosul, on Friday.
The group of jihadists targeted a prison in an effort to free their comrades and also attacked the governor's offices and several police stations. Iraqi officials said the attack was an apparent effort to draw troops away from Mosul.
Isil has been publishing daily "fact sheets" on the battle for Mosul on social media.
In an update, it celebrated the killing of chief petty officer Jason Finan, 34, as the death of "an American crusader soldier".
Finan, 34, who was killed on Thursday, was the first American to die in the Mosul offensive and the fourth American killed since US operations against Isil began in 2014.
Mosul is Isil's last city stronghold in Iraq and if it does fall the so-called "caliphate" will have only its de facto capital in Raqqa left out of territory that once stretched from northern Syria towards central Iraq.
Iraqi and Kurdish troops have captured a number of villages around the city but are still several miles outside Mosul itself and bracing for potentially fierce street-to-street fighting once they get inside.
Karim Sinjari, the interior minister for the Kurdish regional government, said there were some signs of people inside Mosul rising up against Isil in anticipation of the arrival of Iraqi forces.
However, he warned that the battle would not be over quickly and that the roughly 8,000 jihadists in the city would put up fierce resistance with suicide bombers, snipers and booby traps.