battle fighters from the Islamic State organisation in the locality of Ali Rash, in the outskirts of Mosul. Video provided by AFP Newslook
Iraqi troops stormed into the Islamic State-bastion of Mosul on Thursday for the first time in two years, facing an extremist group whose leader urged militant fighters to confront their enemy until "their blood flows like rivers."
Iraqi special forces pushed into the city's less populated eastern outskirts to gain a foothold before pressing onto the urban sections, less than a mile away, where the bulk of more than a million people are trapped.
Iraqi forces continued to consolidate their gains into the evening, hunting for any IS fighters who may have stayed behind, checking houses and streets for booby traps, and handling an influx of hundreds of people who fled IS-held territory deeper in the city, the Associated Press reports.
The commander of the Joint Military Operation Command, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, told reporters on Thursday that more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated to nearby camps since Wednesday from Gogjali and surrounding areas, according to the AP.
The BBC, which has reporters embedded with the Iraqis, said elite Counter-Terrorism Service troops faced fierce resistance after seizing control of the state TV building in Gogjali. Army units are also pushing into the southeastern Judaydat al-Mufti area, according to the military, the BBC reports.
Islamic State militants tried to slow the advance by employing car bombs.
The Islamic State is a terror group that in just a few short years has overshadowed al-Qaeda and became a major threat to the world. USA TODAY, Walbert Castillo
Although a 100,000-strong coalition led by Iraq has been advancing on the city, only Iraqi forces are entering Mosul, commanders tell CNN. That reflects Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's contention that the battle for Mosul is at its core an Iraqi fight and that sectarian politics must be kept from the key battle.
As the military pressured increased on the Islamic State, a man claiming to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on extremists to launch attacks in Turkey and Saudi Arabia in a message lasting more than 30 minutes that was released late Wednesday, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group said.
“Oh you who seek martyrdom! Start your actions! Turn the night of the disbelievers into day. Totally decimate their territories and make their blood flow like rivers!” he said in his first recording since the U.S.-backed offensive to retake Iraq's second-largest city started more than two weeks ago.
“Holding your ground in honor is a thousand times better than retreating in disgrace,” Al-Baghdadi added, according to CNN. "You need to be one and united in your fight against your enemy. You should seek to raise the word of God on Earth.”
Al-Baghdadi said Shiite Muslims want to “empty Iraq of Sunnis and replace them with the worst of people.” He called for militants to “respond to all attacks” and to “target all in their media and forces and all who belong to them.”
The group's secretive leader last released a recording in December. The latest release couldn’t be independently verified by USA TODAY.
Mosul was captured by the militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in 2014. Iraqi special forces entered the eastern outskirts of the city on Tuesday.
An estimated 5,000 ISIL members remain in Mosul, according to CNN.