UK & World News
Iraq City Mosul Seized By Al Qaeda Splinter Group
A state of emergency has been declared in Iraq after militants effectively seized control of the country's second city.
Security forces abandoned their posts in Mosul after fighters, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, overran government and military buildings.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has said the government would arm citizens to fight the militants, who are believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
An army colonel in the local military command said: "We have lost Mosul... Army and police forces left their positions and ISIL terrorists are in full control. It's a total collapse for the security forces."
Thousands of families have fled to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north. Cars and trucks were seen queuing at a checkpoint on the boundary to the region.
Police were discarding uniforms and weapons and fleeing the city of two million people, where the ISIL black flag was flying over government buildings.
"Mosul now is like hell. It's in flames and death is everywhere," said widow Amina Ibrahim, who was leaving with her children.
Sky News Arabia sources say around 1,400 prisoners have been released after gunmen torched several police stations in Mosul, which is a former al Qaeda stronghold.
Residents told the Associated Press detainees set free were seen roaming the streets in yellow jumpsuits.
The capture of Mosul followed four days of heavy fighting in the city and the surrounding Nineveh province.
Militant fighters are now moving south towards neighbouring Salaheedin province, according to Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al Nujaifi.
The US State Department pledged to help Iraq leaders "push back against this aggression", saying the militants pose a threat to the entire region.
UK's Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Hugh Robertson said: "I utterly condemn the attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Mosul in Iraq this morning."
The fall of Mosul deals a serious blow to the Iraq government's efforts to fight militants who have regained ground in Iraq over the past year.
ISIL insurgents and their allies currently have control of Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province.
ISIL was known as al Qaeda in Iraq until ties between the two organisations were cut earlier in 2014 following a power struggle.