IS driving hundreds into city, using them as human shields

Associated Press


Islamic State militants have been going door to door in villages south of Mosul, ordering people at gunpoint on a mileslong trek into the city and using them as human shields as the extremists prepare to defend it from Iraqi forces, according to residents swept up in the forced evacuations.

Witnesses described scenes of chaos over the past week as hundreds of people were ordered out of their homes without having time to pack and driven north across the Ninevah plains toward the heavily fortified city, where IS has been preparing for a climactic show-down.

“IS took all of us from our homes at gunpoint and told us they were taking us with them to Mosul,” Ahmed Bilal Harish told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They said if you don’t come with us, you’re an unbeliever.”

He said he and his family were able to escape only when a volley of airstrikes caused the fighters to scatter during the 25-mile forced march from their home in the town of Shura to Mosul.

“We had two choices: We could be killed by Daesh or die along the way, so we ran,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS. The family is now living in a camp for those displaced by the fighting in an area under government control.

Other Shura residents also described being forcibly relocated to Mosul over the weekend.

The militants gave people only a few minutes to leave and said any stragglers risked being punished for hiding out and trying to join the Iraqi security forces.

One family was forced to leave their home in the middle of a meal, and another lost track of two relatives during the melee and have not seen them since. At least one villager died of a heart attack on the road, they said.

The displaced residents spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety while living under IS rule in Mosul.

The U.S. military, which is providing airstrikes and ground support for the offensive, estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 IS fighters are defending the city itself, with another 1,500 to 2,500 in the outer belts, where most of the fighting has taken place.