An airstrike on a district held by ISIS targeting the house of senior militant Harbi Abdel Qader in the Iraqi city of Mosul killed up to 30 civilians, residents reported to Reuters.
Abdel Qader was not in the building at the time, but several members of his family died, one resident said late on Friday.
The witnesses said they saw at least three missiles hit the western Mosul al-Jadida area on Thursday.
They said it was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, or by Iraqi forces that have been making advances against the jihadists in the city.
Iraq Body Count (IBC), a group run by academics and peace activists that has been counting violent deaths in the country since 2003, said 21 to 25 civilians were reported killed on Thursday in a strike on that area.
Iraqi forces have been fighting for months to drive ISIS group out of Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in Iraq.
In this regard, Iraqi special forces retook the eastern edge of a third bridge in Mosul Saturday and a cluster of buildings inside Mosul university, according to a senior Iraqi officer overseeing the operation.
Iraqi forces now control the eastern sides of three of the city’s five bridges that span the Tigris river connecting Mosul’s east to west. Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition bombed the city’s bridges late last year in an effort to isolate ISIS fighters in the city’s east by disrupting resupply routes.
At Mosul University, senior commanders said that Iraqi forces have secured more than half of the campus Saturday amid stiff resistance, but clashes were ongoing into the afternoon. Iraqi forces entered the university from the southeast Friday morning and by nightfall had secured a handful of buildings, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil and Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said on a tour of the university Saturday.
“We watched all the ISIS fighters gather in that building, so we blew it up,” said special forces Sgt. Maj. Haytham Ghani pointing to one of the blackened technical college buildings where charred desks could be seen inside. “You can still see some of their corpses,” he added.
Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the middle of the sprawling complex Saturday morning. By afternoon, clashes had intensified with volleys of sniper and mortar fire targeting the advancing Iraqi forces. Convoys of Iraqi Humvees snaked through the campus, pausing for artillery and airstrikes to clear snipers perched within classrooms, dormitories and behind the trees that line the campus streets.
Head of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) Sami al-Aridhi said that Iraqi forces also found chemical substances ISIS had used to try to make weapons.
The United Nations says the militants seized nuclear materials used for scientific research from the university when they overran Mosul and vast areas of northern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014.
ISIS fighters have used chemical agents including mustard gas in a number of attacks in Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials, rights groups and residents say.
As Iraqi forces have closed in on the Tigris river that roughly divides Mosul into eastern and western halves, their pace has quickened. ISIS defenses in the city’s east appear to be thinning and unlike in the surrounding neighborhoods, Iraqi officers said they believe Mosul university and recently retaken government buildings are largely empty of civilians — allowing them to use air cover more liberally.
The massive operation to retake Mosul from ISIS was launched in October. Since then Iraqi forces have slowly clawed back more than a third of the city. ISIS maintains has tight control of the city’s western half where Iraqi forces will likely encounter another wave of heavy ISIS resistance. The west of the city is home to some of Mosul’s densest neighborhoods and an estimated 700,000 civilians.