ISIS has raided government buildings in and around the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
According to Iraqi media, suicide bombers had attacked police stations and a power station, but that security forces had repelled the assaults.
A news agency affiliated to ISIS claimed its fighters had broken into Kirkuk’s town hall and seized a central hotel.
The attacks come as Iraqi pro-government forces continue an offensive to retake ISIS-held Mosul, to the north.
ISIS militants were reported to have set fire to a chemical plant south of Mosul as they retreated on October 20.
Sources said they started the fire at the sulphur plant in al-Mishraq deliberately when they were being pushed out of the area by security forces.
There are conflicting reports about the scale and extent of the attack on Kirkuk.
A local TV channel broadcast footage of black smoke rising over the city, with automatic gunfire audible.
The Beirut-based newspaper al-Sumaria reported that during the dawn attack, three suicide bombers had blown themselves up.
Kirkuk police sources said three Iranian workers at the power station were killed, along with eight Iraqis.
The city’s governor, Najm al-Din Karim, told the Kurdish news agency, Rudaw, that Kurdish Peshmerga and counter-terrorism forces were completely in control of the situation, and said the attackers were from ISIS sleeper cells.
Security forces had killed six suicide bombers, Najm al-Din Karim added.
Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city that is located about 180 miles north of the capital Baghdad and 105 miles south-east of Mosul. It is claimed both by Iraq’s central government and by the country’s Kurds.
The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been destroyed by ISIS, satellite images confirmed.
St. Elijah’s monastery, or Dair Mar Elia, stood on a hill near the northern city of Mosul for 1,400 years.
Now, St. Elijah’s has joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in Syria and Iraq. The extremists have defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra. Museums and libraries have been looted, books burned, artwork crushed – or trafficked.
Analysts said the images, obtained by the Associated Press, suggested St. Elijah’s had been demolished in late 2014, soon after ISIS seized Mosul.
A Catholic priest from Mosul warned that its Christian history was “being barbarically leveled”.
“We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land,” said Father Paul Thabit Habib, who now lives in Kurdish-administered Irbil.
ISIS has targeted Christians in Iraq and neighboring Syria, seizing their property and forcing them to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or flee.
The group has also demolished a number of monasteries and churches, as well as renowned pre-Islamic sites including Nimrud, Hatra and Nineveh in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.
St. Elijah’s Monastery was believed to have been constructed by Assyrian monks in the late 6th Century. It was later claimed by a Chaldean Catholic order.
In 1743, its monks were given an ultimatum by Persian forces to convert to Islam. They refused and as many as 150 were massacred.
Islamic State (ISIS) militants have destroyed historic artefacts at a Mosul museum in Iraq.
The head of the UN agency for culture, UNESCO, has said the artefacts’ destruction is a war crime.
Irina Bokova said she was appalled by an act of “cultural cleansing”, calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the issue.
ISIS posted a video on February 26 appearing to show militants with sledgehammers smashing statues in a museum in Mosul.
Some of the artefacts date back to the 9th Century BC.
ISIS militants said the statues were “false idols” that had to be smashed.
At a news conference in Paris, Irina Bokova described the video as “a real shock”, saying she was simply unable to finish watching the footage.
“I was filled with dismay by images of the attack on the Mosul Museum,” she said.
In a statement, UNESCO stressed that under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime.
The statement added that Irina Bokova had already called on the ICC to launch an investigation.
She also announced the creation of a “global coalition against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods”, adding that it would meet in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the Louvre Museum in Paris said in a statement: “This destruction marks a new stage in the violence and horror, because all of humanity’s memory is being targeted in this region that was the cradle of civilization, the written word, and history.”
In the video released via ISIS social media sites, black-clad men push over statues, smash them with sledgehammers and use a pneumatic drill to destroy the rubble.
The video shows one man drilling through and pulling apart what appears to be a stone winged-bull, an Assyrian protective deity dating to the 7th Century BC.
One of the militants in the video seeks to justify their destruction in religious terms.
Analysts say the artefacts are unique and priceless, although the museum does also house copies of some items.
ISIS has controlled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, since June 2014. The US military have said that an assault on the city by the Iraqi army could happen within months.
The region under ISIS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites.
The reported destruction of the statues follows recent reports that ISIS burnt down Mosul Library, which housed over 8,000 ancient manuscripts.
Forty nine hostages seized by Islamic State (ISIS) from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have been freed and are back in Turkey.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the 49 had been taken to the southern city of Sanliurfa by the Turkish intelligence agency.
Details are unclear but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it had been a “detailed and secret operation”.
The hostages were seized after ISIS militants overran Mosul in a rapid advance in June.
Turkey has refused direct involvement in the military campaign against ISIS partly because of fears over the hostages’ safety.
Deputy PM Bulent Arinc said the 49 hostages were employees from the consulate – 46 Turks and three local Iraqis – and included Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz, other diplomats, children and special forces police.
Ahmet Davutoglu said they were all in good health and that they were released early on Saturday.
“I am sharing joyful news which as a nation we have been waiting for,” he said.
PM Ahmet Davutoglu said the hostages had been taken to the southern city of Sanliurfa by the Turkish intelligence agency (photo AP)
“In the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country. They have crossed into Turkey and I am on my way to see them.”
Ahmet Davutoglu was cutting short a visit to Azerbaijan to meet the released hostages.
He did not give details on the circumstances of their release but broadcaster NTV reported that Turkey had not paid a ransom. It did not say how it obtained the information.
More than 30 Turkish truck drivers, who were also seized in Mosul in June, were freed a month later but details of their release were not made public.
ISIS has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria. Estimates say the group could have up to 30,000 fighters.
The US has carried out more than 170 air strikes against the jihadists in Iraq since mid-August, supporting Iraqi government and Kurdish ground troops.
French jets carried out their first strikes on Friday, hitting an ISIS depot in north-eastern Iraq.
Also on September 19, Turkey opened a stretch of its south-eastern border to thousands of Syrian Kurds fleeing an ISIS advance.
Turkish troops had earlier blocked them from crossing, triggering angry protests from Turkish Kurds in the border village of Dikemetas.
Turkey has been under pressure from Western countries to tighten up its borders with Syria and Iraq and to stem the flow of foreign fighters joining the militants.
More than 847,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.
More than 30 nations have joined a US-led coalition to take on ISIS militants, but Turkey has said it will only allow humanitarian and logistical operations from a NATO air base on its soil.
Syria and Iran have been excluded from the coalition.
An air strike in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has killed at least 30 people, reports say.
Some of those killed were being held by the Islamic State (IS) militants.
Iraqi state TV reported that at least 60 militants were killed and about 300 detainees were able to escape.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces were also reportedly shelling eastern districts of Mosul and an area to the north-east on Wednesday.
Earlier, a senior Kurdish official warned that 50,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority trapped in mountains to the west faced death if they were not rescued soon.
At least 30 people have been killed in an air strike in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul
The Yazidis fled to the mountains with little food or water after fighters from IS – previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) – overran the town of Sinjar at the weekend.
“Urgent international action is needed to save them. Many of them – mainly the elderly, children and pregnant women – have died,” Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ministry in charge of the Peshmerga, told the Reuters news agency.
On Tuesday, the UN said it had received credible reports that 40 Yazidi children had died “as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration” since Sunday.
Iraqi army helicopters were reportedly delivering food and water to the area on Wednesday.
Sinjar fell during an offensive that saw the IS and its allies seize several other towns in the north-west, an oil field and Iraq’s biggest dam, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Peshmerga.
A senior official in Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said fighters from the Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had launched a counter-offensive.
“The fighters of [the PYD] and the PKK are responsible for confronting [the Islamic State] in Rabia and the Sinjar area,” Hallo Penjweny told the AFP news agency.
“On our side, we are taking care of Zumar and the rest of the area north and east of Mosul.”
Ties were strained by the KRG’s decision to send Peshmerga forces into disputed areas of northern Iraq in June after soldiers abandoned their posts in the face of the IS advance; a push by Kurdish leaders for an independence referendum; and PM Nouri Maliki’s claim in July that they were giving sanctuary to extremists.
ISIS insurgents in Iraq have seized the city of Tikrit, their second major gain after capturing Mosul on Tuesday, security officials say.
Tikrit, the hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein, lies 95 miles north of the capital Baghdad.
Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki vowed to fight back against the jihadists and punish those in the security forces who fled offering little or no resistance.
The insurgents are from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
ISIS insurgents in Iraq have seized the city of Tikrit, their second major gain after capturing Mosul (photo AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS, which is also known as ISIL, is an offshoot of al-Qaeda.
The Islamist group controls considerable territory in eastern Syria and western and central Iraq, in a campaign to set up a Sunni militant enclave straddling the border.
There were also reports on Wednesday of fighting further south, in Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad.
Separately, at least 21 people were killed and 45 hurt by a suicide bomber at a Shia meeting in Baghdad, police said.
As many as 500,000 people fled Mosul after the militants attacked the city. The head of the Turkish mission in Mosul and almost 50 consulate staff are being held by the militants, Turkish officials say.
Turkey’s foreign minister warned there would be “harsh retaliation” if any of its citizens were harmed.
The insurgents moved quickly south, entering the town of Baiji late on Tuesday.
There were heavy clashes reported in Tikrit, with dozens of insurgents attacking security forces near the headquarters of the Salaheddin provincial government in the city centre.
AFP news agency quoted police and witnesses as saying there was fighting at the northern entrance to Samarra.
Earlier PM Nouri Maliki vowed to fight back against the militants. He has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency.
In a live TV address, he said a “conspiracy” had taken place in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province.
Nouri Maliki said he did not want to apportion blame for who had ordered the security personnel “to retreat and cause chaos”.
Iraq’s PM Nouri Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency, after Islamist militants effectively took control of Mosul city.
Nouri Maliki acknowledged “vital areas” of the northern city had been seized.
Overnight, hundreds of men armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-guns seized the Nineveh provincial government’s offices in Mosul.
They also destroyed several police stations before overrunning the airport and army’s operations headquarters.
Elsewhere, a double bomb attack in the central town of Baqouba killed at least 20 people, police and medics said. The blasts, targeting a funeral procession in the capital of Diyala province, also wounded 28 people.
Iraq’s Islamist militants took control of Mosul city
In the past week, the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its allies have carried out major attacks on cities and towns in western and northern Iraq, killing scores of people.
Militants from ISIS have been informally controlling much of Nineveh province for months, imposing tolls of the movement of goods and demanding protection money from local officials.
After five days of fighting, they took control of key installations in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with an estimated population of 1.8 million.
PM Nouri Maliki, who is struggling to form a government in the wake of the April elections, has vowed to drive the ISIS “terrorists” out of mainly-Sunni Mosul in short order.
He is unlikely to succeed soon. He made similar vows when Sunni militants took over Falluja, west of Baghdad, in January, and they are still there.
It is not yet clear whether it is only ISIS involved in the Mosul takeover. In Falluja and its province, Anbar, Nouri Maliki has clearly alienated many Sunni tribesmen and others, creating fertile soil for the radicals.
Internet images of local youths and even children stoning Iraqi security vehicles as they fled Mosul suggest that the Shia PM is not popular there either.
ISIS is also actively fighting in neighboring eastern Syria to establish its control there, apparently aiming to straddle the border with an Islamic state.
If Nouri Maliki is to defeat the Sunni radicals, he may need the help of Kurdish forces from the north. That will come with a heavy price tag, and they have in any case so far refused.
On Monday, Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi made a televised plea to the city’s residents, calling on them to “stand firm in their areas and to defend them against the strangers”.
He fled shortly before the provincial government’s headquarters fell to the onslaught late on Monday night.
On Tuesday, several residents told the Associated Press that black flags associated with jihadist groups were flying from buildings and that the militants had announced over loudspeaker that they had “come to liberate Mosul and would fight only those who attack them”.
Many police stations were reported to have been set on fire – local TV stations showed pictures of plumes of smoke rising over the city – and hundreds of detainees set free.
An interior ministry official admitted that police and soldiers had fled after removing their uniforms, telling the AFP news agency: “The city of Mosul is outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants.”
Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of parliament and brother of Nineveh’s governor, called on the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government to send reinforcements to Mosul to “fight the terrorists”, whom he said had seized military hardware, including helicopters.
Meanwhile, the Turkish consulate in Mosul confirmed reports that 28 Turkish lorry drivers had been abducted by militants in Nineveh.