Iraqi Shiite paramilitary units captured the northern province of Hatra, cutting off several desert tracks used by Islamic State to move between Iraq and Syria, the military. The operations in Hatra are carried out by Popular Mobilisation, a coalition of mostly Iranian-trained militias of Shi’ite volunteers formed in 2014 after Islamic State, a hardline Sunni group, overran a third of Iraq. The militias on Wednesday dislodged Islamic State from the ancient ruins of Hatra, which suffered great destruction under the militants’ three-year rule, a military spokesman said. Hatra, a city that flourished in the first century AD, lies 125 km (80 miles) south of Mosul, where the militants have been fighting off a U.S.-backed offensive since October. Hatra is also located west of Hawija, a region north of Baghdad still under Islamic State control. Popular Mobilisation, which operates with the approval of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, said the Hatra campaign aims at cutting off Islamic State’s routes between Hawija, Mosul and eastern Syria.
Twin bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims killed 46 people in Damascus, most of them Iraqis, in one of the bloodiest attacks in the Syrian capital. A roadside bomb detonated as a bus passed and a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Bab Al Saghir area, which houses several Shiite mausoleums that draw a large number of pilgrims. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi strongly condemned the “heinous and shameful” terrorist attacks. “Indiscriminate assassinations, carnage and spilling the blood of innocent people, including women and children, are the last resort of the desperate and miserable terrorists who have lost their control more than ever following their repeated failures in different fields” he noted.
A newly banned Shiite group in northern Nigeria said on Thursday it was appealing in court against the government decision that observers are warning could spark sustained violence. The Islamic Movement in Nigeria said the ban by Kaduna state officials violates Nigerians’ rights to religious freedom. The ban, announced earlier this month, was made official by its publication on Wednesday. Tensions with the Shiite population are high after the army gunned down more than 300 people in an attack in December on the Islamic Movement in Nigeria’s headquarters. The government has said the group provoked the attack, with the military accusing it of trying to assassinate the country’s army chief. A claim that human rights groups have called unbelievable.