Iraq forces kill attackers, free hostages

The militant attack was mounted by eight armed men, police and an interior ministry official said

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Iraqi armed forces ended a hostage crisis in Baghdad on Thursday, after they killed four remaining attackers who stormed a building occupied by a state-owned company, officials said.

The remaining hostages were freed, Brigadier General Saad Maan, the interior ministry spokesman said, according to Agence France-Presse.

A police colonel and another interior ministry official confirmed that the attackers had been killed.

Initial media reports said that an office belonging to the human rights ministry was targeted and its employees were taken as hostages.

However, the ministry told the local al-Sumaria News TV station that this didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, Kamil Amin, a spokesman for the ministry, which has an office next to the attacked building belonging to the transportation ministry, said security measures were heightened in the area.

“We sent our employees home to save them from the violence that is going on in the building next to us,” Ameen told the Associated Press, adding that sporadic shooting was still underway.

In the assault, at least 18 people were killed, a senior security source told AFP.

The brazen assault on offices along Canal Street in the northeast of the capital comes as security forces grapple with intensifying violence and an extended standoff with anti-government fighters in western Anbar province.

The militant attack was mounted by eight armed men, police and an interior ministry official said.

Security forces sealed off the surrounding area, where several government buildings are located, including the main headquarters of the transport ministry.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sunni militants affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have in the past mounted similar armed attacks on Iraqi government buildings.

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq in late 2012 after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab politician, on terrorism charges.

The arrests were seen by Iraqi Sunnis as yet another example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.

But the demonstrations have tapped into deeper grievances, with Sunnis saying they are both marginalized by the Shiite-led government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.

Earlier this month, Iraq hanged 26 people convicted of “terrorism” offences.

Iraq hanged at least 151 people in 2013, up from 129 in 2012 and 68 in 2011, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its annual world report published on Jan. 21.

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has frequently condemned Iraq's mass executions as “obscene and inhuman,” saying its justice system is deeply flawed.

Violence in Iraq has surged in the past year to its highest levels since the Sunni-Shiite sectarian bloodshed that peaked in 2006 and 2007 when tens of thousands of people were killed.

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