An Iraqi military plane went down Wednesday over territory held by the Islamic State group and at least three crew members were missing, various media outlets reported. While Iraqi officials have blamed the incident on “technical problems,” ISIS militants have claimed they shot the plane down and that five crew members were killed, Middle East Eye reported.
ISIS released a statement on social media saying the plane was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over the city of Hawija, in the Kirkuk province of Iraq, as it was carrying out a bombing mission. The Cessna 208 that went down Wednesday can be used to carry laser-guided Hellfire missiles.
Photos were also published by the group purporting to show residents of the city celebrating the crash. The authenticity of the photos and videos could not be immediately confirmed.
The area has been the site of repeated clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS in recent months. Last October, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a joint raid in Hawija to rescue 70 Kurdish hostages who officials said faced imminent danger. One U.S. soldier was killed in that operation.
— Zaid Benjamin (@zaidbenjamin) March 16, 2016
ISIS managed to shoot down an Iraqi military helicopter about a month ago, killing two crew members, and an Iraqi Mi-17 helicopter crashed due to “technical issues,” killing nine, just two days earlier. It remained unclear whether ISIS was responsible for bringing down the plane Wednesday.
While ISIS continues to hold large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, the militants have lost land in the last few months amid an intense U.S.-led airstrike campaign. Kurdish, Iraqi and tribal forces have gradually closed in on the area surrounding Hawijah.
ISIS claims to have downed an Iraqi warplane near Hawija today. Video shows downing, wreckage, and bodies of crew. pic.twitter.com/mzceZyNx5y
— Bridget Moreng (@BridgetMoreng) March 16, 2016
As ISIS has been losing its grip on the area, it has reportedly been pressured to slash fighter salaries and impose new taxes to make up for a revenue shortfall. A State Department official recently said the extremists have increasingly been leaning on an army of child soldiers amid a wave of recent defections.