Islamist militant group Isis makes further gains in Iraq, seizing Tikrit – the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein – 95 miles north of Baghdad.
Following the seizure of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, on Tuesday – fighters from extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) overran parts of Tikrit, the former dictator’s hometown.
Earlier, the militants advanced on the country’s biggest oil refinery at the town of Baiji.
Security sources said fighters drove into Baiji in armoured vehicles on Tuesday evening, burning the local courthouse and police station and freeing prisoners.
There were unconfirmed reports that the Iraqi military had regained control of Baiji.
The extremist rebel group then offered safe passage to 250 men guarding the oil refinery.
Fighting has also been reported at Kirkuk, to the south of Mosul, and on Wednesday there were report that the Sunni Islamist group had overrun parts of Tikrit, the former hometown of Hussein.
Back in Mosul, 49 Turks were seized from the Turkish consulate and transfered to another part of the city, while 31 Turkish truck drivers who were abducted on Tuesday, were being held hostage at a power station in the city.
Speaking in New York, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the government was engaged in “calm crisis management”, but threatened “the harshest retaliation” if any of the hostages were harmed.
Isis is reported to have gained control of weapons, vehicles and a large amount of money after Iraqi government soldiers fled Mosul.
An estimated 500,000 people have fled the city, home to around two million people.
Amina Ibrahim, a resident who fled the city with her children, said: “Mosul now is like hell. It’s in flames and death is everywhere.”
Save the Children’s Acting Country Director in Iraq Aram Shakaram said: “Massive traffic jams and blocked roads are seriously hindering access and movement of aid, as hundreds of thousands flee from the raging violence and chaos.
“The most vulnerable families are those left behind and it’s extremely difficult to reach them right now as the violence continues. We are also extremely concerned over how the Kurdistan region of Iraq will cope with the influx.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to regain control of Mosul, and called on international leaders to help.
The US State Department said US could be expected to provide additional assistance to the Iraqi government and on Wednesday evening Nato ambassadors held an emergency meeting at Turkey’s request to discuss the situation in Iraq.
Downing Street said it would not be sending troops to support the Iraqi government.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said that the UK was ready to offer assistance on a diplomatic level to Baghdad, but that deploying the military was “not on the table”.
Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called on his country’s leaders to come together to face “the serious, mortal” threat, saying that Baghdad would work with Kurdish regional leaders to regain control of Mosul.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed at least 16 people when he blew himself up in the Shi’ite slum of Sadr city, according to the police.