Islamic State group militants shot down an Iraqi military helicopter on Saturday, officials said, killing the two pilots onboard and raising fresh concerns about the extremists’ ability to attack aircraft amid ongoing US-led coalition airstrikes.
The attack happened in the Shiite holy city of Samarra, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. A senior Defense Ministry official informed that the Sunni militants used a shoulder-fired rocket launcher to shoot down the EC635 helicopter on the outskirts of the city. An army official corroborated the information. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
The EC635, built by Airbus Helicopters, is used for transport, surveillance and combat.
The militants shot down at least two other Iraqi military helicopters near the city of Beiji in October. Some fear the militants may have captured ground-to-air missiles capable of shooting down airplanes when they overran Iraqi and Syrian army bases this summer.
European airlines including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France, US carrier Delta Air Lines and Dubai-based Emirates changed their commercial flight plans over the summer to avoid Iraqi airspace. The US-trained Iraqi military virtually collapsed in the face of the militants’ blitz, shedding their uniforms and abandoning sophisticated weapons near the northern city of Mosul.
The Islamic State group holds about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-styled caliphate.