Baghdad - Islamic State (IS) militants have burned to death 45 people in the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, BBC quoted the local police chief on Tuesday.
Exactly who these people were and why they were killed is not clear, but Col Qasim al-Obeidi said he believed some were members of the security forces. IS fighters captured much of the town, near Ain al-Asad air base, last week.
Col Obeidi said a compound that houses the families of security personnel and local officials was now under attack. He pleaded for help from the government and the international community. The fighting and poor communications in the area make it difficult to confirm such reports. Earlier this month, IS published a video showing militants burning alive a Jordanian air force pilot, whose plane crashed in Syria in December.
Al-Baghdadi had been besieged for months by Islamic State fighters before its fall on Thursday. It had been one of the few towns to still be controlled by the Iraqi government in Anbar province, where IS and allied Arab tribesmen launched an offensive in January 2014.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm John Kirby told reporters on Friday that al-Baghdadi’s capture needed to be put in perspective. He said it was the first time in the last couple of months that the militant group had taken new ground. However, Ain al-Asad air base, where about 320 US Marines are training members of the Iraqi army’s 7th Division, is only 8km (5 miles) away.
The base was itself attacked by IS militants, among them several suicide bombers, on Friday. The militants were eventually repelled by Iraqi troops backed by US-led coalition aircraft. In a separate development on Tuesday, influential cleric Moqtada Sadr announced he was withdrawing his forces from an umbrella group of militia fighting IS alongside the Iraqi army. He cited what he called the bad behaviour of other militia within the Popular Mobilisation Forces, whom he accused of “wreaking havoc through murdering, kidnapping and violating sanctuaries”.
The militia have been accused of kidnapping and killing scores of civilians since Islamic State launched an offensive in northern Iraq last June that saw it seize large swathes of the country. Meanwhile, Egypt called Tuesday for UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State group targets following the militants’ beheadings of Egyptian Christians.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said “there is no choice” but to create a global coalition to confront the extremists in Libya, in an interview aired by France’s Europe 1 radio.
Egypt’s foreign minister was in New York seeking backing from UN Security Council members for military intervention and to demand “full support” against the militants, a ministry spokesman said.
The diplomatic push comes a day after Egyptian F-16s bombed militant bases in Derna and on the February 17 anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 NATO-backed revolt that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The raids were ordered hours after IS in Libya released a gruesome video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians who had travelled there seeking work.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein Tuesday called the murders a “vile crime targeting people on the basis of their religion”. He denounced “the ghastly attempt to justify and glorify it in a video”.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians remain in Libya, and their government is encouraging them to leave, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told reporters.
Libya has been gripped by turmoil since the revolt and Cairo officials have long said the NATO intervention to help the anti-Kadhafi rebels left Egypt to contend with chaos on its western border. “The mission was not finished,” Abdelatty said.
France, which agreed Monday to sell Egypt advanced Rafale warplanes, has called with Cairo on the UN to adopt measures to confront the militants in Libya.
Italy, the former colonial power there and located just across the Mediterranean, ruled out intervention without UN backing and suggested a political solution remained the best option.
“What is happening is very complicated. We are following events closely and with concern but there is no need to jump from total indifference to hysteria and an unreasonable reaction,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told TG5 television.
The European Union said it will discuss with the Egyptian and US governments this week joint action on Libya, but that it saw no role in any military intervention for now.
Chaos in Libya has seen rival governments and powerful militias battling for key cities and the country’s oil riches, providing fertile ground for IS.
Several Libyan militant groups have pledged allegiance to IS, which last year seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, declaring an Islamic caliphate and committing widespread atrocities.
Earlier this month, delegates from Libya’s rival parliaments held UN-mediated indirect talks described by the UN as “positive”. But Egypt says it would be naive to hope for a speedy political settlement, insisting that militants must be confronted with force.
“There are terrorist organisations in Libya that are not abiding by their commitments; they are not serious about dialogue,” said Abdelatty.
Monday’s strikes were the first time Egypt announced military action against militant targets in Libya. Last year it reportedly allowed the United Arab Emirates to use its bases to bomb militants there.
Experts say Sisi wants to be seen as a key ally of the West against extremism, deflecting international criticism of his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood of former president Mohamed Morsi, whom he ousted in 2013.
As well as Libya to the west, Egypt is dealing with an insurgency in its own east, in the Sinai Peninsula, where militants have also joined IS and killed scores of troops.
Abdelatty said it was time for the international effort against IS - which has been hammered by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria - to focus on its presence elsewhere.
“Just as there is movement against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, we want the world to turn its attention to Libya,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for group.