ISIS frees prisoners as it loses grip on Mosul

People in west Mosul after a food distribution exercise by Iraqi troops on Friday. As Iraqi forces closed in on terror group ISIS' last urban stronghold in the country, residents were forced to hide in their homes and get by on whatever they had mana
People in west Mosul after a food distribution exercise by Iraqi troops on Friday. As Iraqi forces closed in on terror group ISIS' last urban stronghold in the country, residents were forced to hide in their homes and get by on whatever they had managed to stockpile.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BAGHDAD • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has released dozens of prisoners held in jails in the districts of Mosul that remain under its control, residents said yesterday.

The release of the prisoners on Friday is another sign that the militants are being overwhelmed by the United States-backed Iraqi offensive that started on Oct 17 last year to dislodge them from Mosul, their last major city stronghold in Iraq.

ISIS has lost most cities it captured in Iraq in 2014 and 2015. It declared in 2014 a caliphate that also spanned parts of Syria from Mosul.

Among those released were people who had been caught selling cigarettes or in possession of a mobile phone and therefore suspected of communicating with the outside world, the residents said.

Iraqi forces dislodged ISIS from the eastern side of the northern city in January, and on Feb 19, launched the offensive on the districts located west of the Tigris river.

State-run TV on Friday said about half of 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 released on Friday said two militants got him out of a basement where he was held captive with other people, blindfolded the group and drove them away in 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 by phone, adding that about 25 prisoners were on the bus.

The man, who requested not to be identified, indicated that he had spent two weeks in jail for selling cigarettes.

As Iraqi forces closed in on the militants' last Iraqi urban stronghold, residents were forced to hide in their homes and get by on whatever they had managed to stockpile.

"The markets were empty. We had only a little rice, flour and dates," said Mr Abu Ahad, 45.

In a street devastated by fighting, hundreds of men with shaggy beards waited to receive cartons containing bottles of oil, boxes of baby formula, rice, tea and sugar. The cardboard packages were emblazoned with the label "Ministry of Migration and the Displaced".

Women queued in a second line. Some had removed the veils the militants had forced them to wear.

Each resident presented an ID card before being given a parcel.

Mr Fahd Fadel managed to strap his box of aid onto a bike before picking his way through piles of rubble strewn across the street. "I feel like I've been born again," said the 50-year-old, adding that he had a wife and five children to feed.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'ISIS frees prisoners as it loses grip on Mosul'. Print Edition | Subscribe