Islamic State (IS) group has been hiding weapons and money in churches, mosques and schools of Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to keep them safe from coalition airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish officials told VOA.
The group has used some of these public facilities as their bomb sweatshops banning locals from entering them, those officials said.
Since the beginning of this year, IS’s territory in Iraq and Syria has been shrinking. At the same time, heavy coalition airstrikes have destroyed millions of U.S. dollars in cash and ammunition depriving the terror group of adequate means it needed to support its fighters.
“To save their money and their weaponry, IS fighters have closed several mosques and schools of Mosul to the public since last month,” Ismat Rajab, who heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s headquarters in Mosul, told VOA. “IS fighters use churches, mosques and schools as shelters or hideouts.”
Bashar Kiki, the head of Nineveh's provincial council, said those places are usually located in populated neighborhoods of the city, which makes them unlikely targets for coalition warplanes.
Denies progress is hindered
The U.S.-led international coalition Joint Task Force against IS confirmed the news to VOA but denied the claims that this tactic has hindered their progress against the terror group.
"ISIL has continually stored weapons and money in populated areas. It has also been well documented [that] ISIL uses human shields, highlighting their true nature and disregard for human life,” Joint Task Force’s press desk told VOA, using an acronym for the militant group. “But these strategies used by ISIL have not hindered our progress.”
But Kiki said by using places of worship and schools, the terror group wants to play to coalition’s sensibilities.
“Coalition cannot bomb these places,” Kiki told VOA. “IS understands coalition’s sensitivity about this.”
He said IS would welcome airstrikes on those places because it would give the group a chance to tell people that the coalition is targeting civilians and their places of worship.
Smoke rises after airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in a village east of Mosul, Iraq, May 29, 2016.
“If coalition attacks these places, IS would use it as a tool to take advantage of people’s grievance for more recruitment,” Kiki said.
After the Orlando shooting incident, Rajab said U.S. planes recently bombed a school building in Mosul, causing tens of casualties.
Airstrike on school
“After the recent shooting incident in America, coalition warplanes for the first time hit a school in Mosul, which was used by IS fighters as a shelter,” Rajab told VOA.
“Many IS fighters were killed but, luckily, no civilians were hurt because schools in Mosul are closed for summer break,” he said.
However, the U.S.-led coalition has denied targeting schools and places of worship.
“Coalition forces work very hard to be precise in our airstrikes and the safety of noncombatants on the battlefield is of the utmost concern to us,” Joint Task Force’s press desk told VOA.
Stephen Mansfield, an American analyst of culture and religion, said IS wants to make a statement about their own strengths and coalition sensibilities about sacred places and the value of children.
“They are showing [to] the world that they control these facilities that are important to their enemies,” Mansfield told VOA. “These are sensibilities they do not share and, in fact, see as weakness.”