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EU Security Commissioner Warns Of Influx Of Jihadists From Mosul

The European Union should be prepared for an influx of jihadists if the so-called Islamic State (IS) is driven out of its Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, the EU’s security commissioner warns.

Julian King told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper that even a small number of militants would pose “a serious threat that we must prepare ourselves for”.

Iraqi forces launched what is expected to be a lengthy offensive on Monday. As many as 5,000 IS fighters are believed to remain in Mosul.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday that it feared the fighters might use civilians as human shields as the offensive advanced – either by hiding amongst them as they fled the city or by preventing them from leaving. The UN has warned that the offensive could cause one of the largest man-made displacement crises of recent times, fearing that as many as one million people may be forced from their homes. There is currently only space for 130,000 people in UN shelters outside of Mosul, but aid workers are scrambling frantically to prepare for as many as 800,000 arrivals, the UNHCR’s Caroline Gluck stated.

Iraqi forces are said to have a plan in place to vet fleeing civilians to ensure militants are not hiding among them.

Julian King, a British diplomat, told Die Welt that some 2,500 fighters from what he called the combat areas were from European Union countries. While a mass exodus of fighters to Europe was unlikely, “even a small number represents a serious threat, and then we must be prepared”, he warned.

A coalition of some 34,000 Iraqi security personnel, Kurdish fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen, and Shia paramilitary forces – backed by the US and other nations – began their advance on the jihadists’ last major urban stronghold in the country on Monday.

Government troops, moving in from the south, are currently some 40km (24 miles) from the city. Kurdish fighters are advancing from the east.

US Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said late on Monday that the campaign was “ahead of schedule” but warned it was early days and it was not yet know whether IS fighters would “stand and fight”.

IS militants overran Mosul in June 2014, before taking much of northern and western Iraq. The extremists’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then chose Mosul as the place to announce the forming of a caliphate.