BAGHDAD — Gunmen have stormed a university in the restive Anbar province west of Baghdad and are holding dozens of students hostage, Iraqi officials said Saturday.
Police and army officials say the attack took place Saturday morning when gunmen stormed Anbar University near the provincial capital Ramadi, parts of which have been held by Islamic extremists and other anti-government militants for months. The gunmen have detained dozens of students inside the university dormitory, they said.
The gunmen killed three police guards who tried to stop them at the university gate, the officials said, adding that security forces have arrived at the scene and sealed off the area. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Ahmed al-Mehamdi, a student who was taken hostage, said he awoke to the crackle of gunfire, looked out the window and saw armed men dressed in black racing across the campus. Minutes later, the gunmen entered the dormitory and ordered everybody to stay in their rooms.
"The gunmen took some students to other university buildings. For the rest of us, we are still trapped in our rooms and everybody is in panic, especially the Shiite students," al-Mehamdi told The Associated Press in a phone interview from inside the dormitory.
An al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other Sunni-led militants have controlled parts of Anbar province, including the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, since late December.
Iraq is currently grappling with its worst surge in violence since the sectarian bloodletting of 2006 and 2007, when the country was pushed to the brink of civil war despite the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops.
The latest violence has been fueled by Sunni Muslim anger at the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, as well as the civil war in neighboring Syria. ISIL has carried out scores of deadly attacks on both sides of the border and imposed a brutal form of Islamic rule in territories under its control. It was not immediately clear if ISIL was behind the university attack.