Iraqi militants attacked Anbar University, located in the central Iraq city of Ramadi, on Saturday. The gunmen are reportedly from a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS); they seized the university, holding several students hostage and killed three guards before a counterattack led to the withdrawal of the militants.
Associated Press reported that ISIL is a Sunni Jihadist group who target Shiites and have led other attacks against President Bashar al-Assad's government. Anbar University houses 10,000 students and there have been recent attacks in Ramadi and the neighboring city of Fallujah. The gunmen killed three police officers who were serving as university guards and also blew up a bridge that connected to the main gate, reports Agence France-Presse.
Speaking to AP, Ahmed al-Mehamdi, an Anbar University student, said he was taken hostage and the gunmen entered the dorms, taking other students hostage while ordering the rest to remain in their rooms. Approximately 1,000 students fled the university during the attack, and other escaped on buses as the military forced the withdrawal of the gunmen.
The conflict in Anbar escalated in December as anti-government factions seized parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, notes AFP. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as many as 480,000 Anbar residents have been displaced due to the conflict. The attempted seizure of Anbar University follows several incidents, including two suicide bombings in Nineveh that killed at least 36 people, notes AFP. The number of attacks is currently at its highest since 2006 and 2007, notes AP, with the increase in violence due to resentment over the Shiite-controlled government and the Syrian civil war.