Their caliphate gone, hidden militants wage nighttime war

ISIS is still provoking fear with kidnappings, killings and ambushes in Iraq more than 18 months after the terror group was apparently defeated in the country. 

Iraqi families have been targeted by ISIS militants posing as army officers, who have shot their enemies dead in revenge for providing intelligence to the Iraqi military.  

The terror group’s remaining fighters, believed to be hiding in caves and mountains, have emerged at night to carry out deadly hits.

They are also battling to restore the extortion rackets that financed the self-proclaimed caliphate’s rise to power six years ago.

One woman, Khadija Abd, said two men with guns had burst into their home in Badoush while they were having supper. 

Posing as soldiers in the Iraqi army, they were in fact ISIS militants – who pulled Khadija’s husband and his two brothers into the yard and shot them dead. 

‘How can we live after this?’ Khadija said. The three brothers were the providers for the entire family. 

‘They left their children, their livestock, their wives, and their elderly father who doesn’t know what to do now,’ she said.  

Iraq declared ISIS defeated within its borders in December and the jihadists lost their last land in Syria earlier this year.  

However the militants’ ranks number between 5,000 and 7,000 fighters around Iraq, according to one Iraqi intelligence official. 

‘Although the territory once held by the so-called caliphate is fully liberated, Daesh fighters still exhibit their intention to exert influence and stage a comeback,’ said U.S. major-general Chad Franks.

Iraqi soldiers have carried out raids in the middle of the night searching for ISIS collaborators, heightening fears among the population. 

In February, Human Rights Watch accused authorities of torturing suspects to extract confessions of belonging to ISIS, which Iraq’s interior ministry has denied.

Badoush, on the Tigris River just outside the city of Mosul, is a key battleground because it was once one of the most diehard ISIS strongholds. 

In the summer of 2014, it was a launching pad for the militants’ blitz that overran Mosul and much of northern Iraq. 

ISIS built a strong financial base by extorting money from the owners of Badoush’s many industrial facilities. 

Security officials estimate two-thirds of its population – which numbered around 25,000 before the war – were at one point members or supporters of the group.

Now the population is divided. Residents who suffered at the hands of IS or lost loved ones to the group are suspicious of neighbors they believe still support the militants. 

Within families, some members belonged to the group and others opposed it.

The Badoush area alone has seen 20 ISIS attacks, from bombings to targeted killings, since it was retaken from the militants in March 2017, according to the Kurdish Security Council. 

The militants brag about the attacks in videos that show fighters storming houses and killing purported ‘apostates’ and spies.

In one raid, troops banged on the door of a man who had returned to Badoush a day earlier. 

He had fled town just before the ISIS takeover in the summer of 2014 and stayed in the Kurdish town of Sulaimaniyah throughout their rule. But his father and one of his brothers remained and joined ISIS.

When the man returned, a local sheikh immediately notified the military. In the raid, the soldiers searched the house and checked his phone records for any suspicious calls abroad.

They asked him about his father and brother. ‘I swear, they destroyed my life,’ the man said. When asked about IS, he insisted, ‘I never came face to face with them.’

The soldiers took him away for questioning, as his three little sisters shook and cried with fear. He was later released.

On another occasion, an informant told the army he had spotted explosives-laden suicide belts in the mountains while out picnicking and looking for truffles. 

Wearing a balaclava to keep his identity secret, he led the army to the spot, where they found the belts and detonated them remotely.

‘People in the town are very cooperative,’ says Mohammed Fawzi, an intelligence officer. ‘But don’t forget that in one house one person was with Daesh and another member was killed by them. It’s very complicated.’

Among the most chilling IS attacks was the January 3 killing of the three Abd brothers, carried out with brutal precision.

The strangers claiming to be soldiers who entered the Abd’s house said they just wanted to ask a few questions and that it wouldn’t take long.

Khadija Abd was immediately suspicious, wondering why her husband – who knew Iraqi military officers personally – did not recognise the intruders.  

After searching the house, the intruders turned aggressive. They dragged the three brothers outside and beat them. 

When Khadija tried to stop them, she was beaten too. The fighters put her, the other wives on the farm and their children in a room and told them, ‘If anyone comes out, we shoot you in the forehead.’

Khadija could hear the men murmuring outside until 10 p.m. in a dialect of Arabic she couldn’t understand. Then it was silent. Khadija thought the men had taken the three brothers away.

At dawn, she went to get water from the well. She spotted her husband’s yellow sleeve in the grass. All three brothers lay on the blood-soaked ground. The militants had used silencers, so the family never heard the gunshots.

Instinctively, she looked for a mobile to call for help. ‘Honestly, I couldn’t even cry. I didn’t cry or scream,’ she said.

To the children, it’s the army that killed their father, she said. ‘They don’t understand anything that’s going on.’

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