Car bombs exploded across the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Saturday night, while militants stormed Anbar university, taking dozens hostage, NBC News reports.
Militants killed three police officers who were guarding the school’s gate before storming the campus and holding students hostage in a dorm. The development comes amid violence in Anbar province that has pitted Sunni Muslims against the Shiite-led government. While government-allied forces have fought with militants in the nearby cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, Anbar University had largely been left alone.
Military.com reports that Ahmed al-Mehamdi, a student at the university and one of the hostages, said that after waking up to the sound of gunfire, he witnessed militants dressed in black running across the campus. “The gunmen took some students to other university buildings,” al-Mehamdi said in an interview by phone from the building in which he was held, adding, “For the rest of us, we are still trapped in our rooms and everybody is in panic, especially the Shiite students.”
After several hours, the militants left the university, under circumstances that still remain unclear. While authorities waited for bomb disposal experts, fearful that explosives had possibly been left behind, students were evacuated by bus. Gunfire erupted as security forces opened fire on fleeing militants, the Huffington Post reports.
The assault comes amid one of the largest surges in sectarian violence since the U.S. led invasion in 2003. Iraqi authorities have grappled with a renewed push by militant forces, fueled both by Sunni Muslim anger at the Shiite Iraqi government, as well as the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria.
In December, Iraqi forces dismantled a Sunni camp near Fallujah, set up to protest perceived second-class treatment. Al-Qaeda linked militants seized parts of the area when Iraqi security forces withdrew, fearful of igniting violence.
Government forces have been engaging militants almost daily ever since. As The Inquisitr previously reported, the developments were particularly hard for Iraq war veterans to watch as American troops fought one of the most difficult battles of the campaign to oust Al-Qaeda from Fallujah.
Attacks in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad took place Saturday night and were largely targeted toward Shiite neighborhoods. An attack in the western Baiyaa district killed nine and left 22 people wounded, before seven other car bombs exploded in one hour, killing 41 and wounding 62 people, according to Iraqi police.
Sunni militants also clashed with security forces in the northern city of Mosul, where fighting killed 21 Iraqi police officers and 38 militants.
[Image via The Telegraph]