IS frees Mosul prisoners as grip on last major city slips

No evidence ISIL used chemical weapons


Islamic State has released dozens of prisoners held in jails in the districts of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that remain under its control, residents said on Saturday.
The release of the prisoners is another sign that the militants are being overwhelmed by the US-backed Iraqi offensive that started on October 17 last year to dislodge them from Mosul, their last major city stronghold in Iraq.
Among those released were people who had been caught selling cigarettes, violating a smoking ban, or in possession of a mobile phone and, therefore, suspected of communicating with the outside world, the residents said.
Iraqi forces dislodged IS from the eastern side of Mosul in January, and, on February 19, launched the offensive on the districts located west of the Tigris river.
The state-run TV said on Friday that about half western Mosul has been taken back from the militants who are besieged in the old city centre and districts to the north.
One of the men, who was released, said two militants got him out of a basement where he was held captive with other people, blindfolded the group and drove them away on a bus.
“After driving a distance, we stopped and they told us to remove the blindfolds and then they said go, you are free,” he said over the phone, adding that about 25 prisoners were on the bus.
The man, who requested not to be identified, said that he spent two weeks in prison for selling cigarettes. One Mosul resident said his brother had suddenly reappeared at their house on Friday after spending a month in captivity for possessing a mobile phone.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, has said there is “no evidence” that ISIL fighters have used chemical weapons in Mosul, where they are battling an offensive by US-backed Iraqi forces. His comments on Friday came nearly a week after medical workers said that several people, including women and children, had been treated for possible exposure to chemical weapons agents in Mosul since the start of the month.
Alhakim said he spoke with officials in Baghdad and “there was really no evidence that Daesh has used this chemical weapon”.
Daesh is another name for ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and is also known as ISIS.— Agencies

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