Terrorists Cornered in Kirkuk After Complex Attack

ISIS counterattacks in another district after campaign to take back Mosul begins

Mideast Iraq
Smoke rises from a building where two militants are believed to be holed up, according to Rudaw TV, in Kirkuk, Iraq, Friday, Oct. 21 / AP
October 21, 2016

An Islamic State force of more than 60 fighters staged a terrorist assault on Kirkuk, Iraq, early Friday morning that claimed the lives of 12 electricity workers, six policemen, and a Turkmen family of seven.

Dozens of the terrorists are dead, including two suicide bombers who detonated themselves at a power station under construction in Dibis, north of Kirkuk, and six or more militants were shot dead inside the city. Kirkuk Police Chief Sarhad Qadir confirmed to Bas News that dozens of militants have been killed and their attacks were repulsed.

At least 35 other individuals have been arrested, according to Kurdish security sources.

Clashes continue in several parts of the city. U.S.-led coalition jets struck ISIS targets in Kirkuk in the late afternoon and struck the ISIS stronghold of Hawija earlier in the day.

Coalition jets carried out seven other air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq on Friday, three in or near Mosul, two in Sinjar, near the border with Syria, one in Kasik, north of Mosul, and one in Sultan Abdullah, according to Operation Inherent Resolve.

One Kirkuk citizen who was in a hotel occupied by ISIS said in a TV interview that approximately 50 gunmen entered the hotel in police outfits, followed by larger numbers.

"The terrorists were armed with modern weapons and explosive belts. They were later rescued by security forces after fierce fighting, which inflicted casualties on the security forces during the rescue," Saad Al-Khalis, a reporter for Daesh Daily in Baghdad, emailed the Washington Free Beacon.

A Turkmen Shia family of seven was murdered and beheaded in their home in southern Kirkuk by the attackers, according to unconfirmed reports from Turkmen sources in the city. ISIS supporters resided in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Hay Al-Askeri, where the family lived, said Dr. Ali Akram Bayati, head of the Turkmen Rescue Foundation. The terrorists appeared in Hay Al-Askeri disguised as policemen driving police vehicles, Bayati said by telephone.

The attackers may have been so-called sleeper cells living in Kirkuk, according to Najmaldin Karim, the Kirkuk governor, who said that the situation is under control. He said the sleeper cells could have been manned by some of the internally displaced people, or IDPs, in camps ringing the city. As many as 500,000 IDPs are in the camps.

"We know that there are hundreds of ISIS supporters hiding among the IDPs," Bayati said.

Counterterrorism units moved to Kirkuk from Sulaimaniya, and some Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) units have moved into the city to assist police, according NRT TV.

A security source said separate groups of armed men and suicide bombers attacked at 3:00 a.m. targeting four police and security buildings in Kirkuk, Daesh Daily reported. Security forces stopped the attacks, killing several terrorists, but at least three suicide bombers detonated themselves.

The terrorists knocked on several doors announcing that they were ISIS fighters. Several local citizens armed themselves and joined with police to hunt down the jihadists, Rudaw reported.

Gov. Karim refuted ISIS claims about capturing any government buildings. The terrorists briefly occupied the old Kirkuk Governance building before being driven out by counterterrorism troops. Fighting is expected to continue in some districts of the city until nightfall, according to Al-Khalis.

The attackers used suicide bombers and three car bombs as the first wave, followed by groups armed with medium weapons, according to Al-Khalis.

The complex attack included a group of three suicide bombers who targeted the Dibis power station under construction, where they killed 12 employees. Two of the bombers detonated themselves, and the third was killed before he could do so, the mayor of Dibis said. Power supply to the city was not affected. A mosque was occupied by attackers, where they delivered a speech through loudspeakers calling for the population to join them to fight authorities and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

The terrorists reportedly came from Arab areas in Kirkuk city, according to sources in Kirkuk who spoke to Ali Sada, editor of Daesh Daily.

"Their hope was to catch Kirkuk security by surprise, as most of the Kirkuk-based Peshmerga have been deployed to the Nineveh campaign. The Peshmerga fighters protecting Kirkuk when the attack came were largely retired soldiers, aided by local volunteers. Most of the terrorists were killed or captured, but some were still at large in the city," Sada reported.

By midmorning, security forces had surrounded a group of attackers in the Tariq Company Headquarters, southeast of Kirkuk.

"The purpose of the attack is to distract Peshmerga forces away from the liberation of Mosul [90 miles northwest of Kirkuk]," Bayati said. "Whenever there has been a major campaign to capture an ISIS stronghold, such as Ramadi or Fallujah, the terrorists counterattack another district in Iraq."

A state of emergency and curfew was announced amid intensive fighting early Friday. The terrorists spread snipers over building tops and are currently surrounded by Kirkuk military intelligence [Asayesh] forces. Fighting is still ongoing in three neighborhoods, according to Al-Khalis.