Islamic State militants have taken over part of Iraq’s largest oil refinery, according to eyewitness accounts and video posted by the extremist group.
McClatchy reported Saturday that the jihadi fighters had taken control of half of the Baiji refinery, citing eyewitnesses:
The surprise Islamic State advance came despite U.S.-led aerial bombardment of Islamic State positions in the central Iraqi city of Baiji, where the refinery is located, and is a reminder of the precarious security situation in central Iraq where elite government troops are stretched thin battling Islamic State forces.
Quoting an Iraqi officer, the news service reported the Islamic State controls “’all the major buildings,’ 80 percent of the watchtowers around the facility, and had flanked government positions with ‘snipers and suicide bombers driving heavily armored car bombs.'"
The witness accounts emerged as the Islamic State posted video showing its fighters at the operating from inside the refinery. The Long War Journal, which tracks jihadi groups, noted that some of the scenes in the video were previously featured in past media postings.
The 13-minute video showed fire and smoke from burning oil billowing skyward, blackening the sky as well as militants firing their artillery, mortars, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades presumably at Iraqi government forces positions.
Also visible was the Islamic State flag planted in various parts of the facility, including on refining equipment.
The graphic video showed incinerated and bloody bodies and highlighted the group’s suicide bombers, calling them martyrs.
At one point, a coalition fighter jet raced overhead, firing its own weapons as the Islamist militants pointed their artillery skyward, aiming at the military aircraft.
Another video posted on YouTube also seemed to corroborate reports that the Islamic State was operating freely inside the facility.
Despite the reports, it’s unclear how much of the major oil facility is actually under control of the militant group. It’s already been shut down since last summer due to the fighting in the area.
McClatchy reported that the Iraqi defense ministry would not comment on who is currently in control of the refinery.
The U.S. military said last month that Iraqi security forces had regained control of the Baiji refinery, thus denying the Sunni militant group the ability to generate cash from oil.
“Once the Iraqis have full control of Baiji, they will control all of their oil infrastructure, both north and south, and deny ISIL the ability to generate revenue through oil,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in April, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
The graphic 13-minute video can be seen at the Long War Journal.