RAMADI Iraq - Gunmen occupied a university in Iraq's western province of Anbar on Saturday, taking hundreds of students and their professors hostage inside the campus, security sources said.
After fighting their way past the guards, the militants managed to break into Anbar University in the provincial capital Ramadi overnight and planted bombs behind them to prevent security forces from advancing.
Security forces surrounded the university and exchanged fire with militants patrolling the rooftops with sniper rifles. Sources in Ramadi hospital said they had received the bodies of two people, one of them a student and the other a policeman.
A professor trapped inside the physics department said some staff whose homes are outside Ramadi had been spending the night at the university because it was the exam period.
"We heard intense gunfire at about 4 am. We thought it was the security forces coming to protect us but were surprised to see they were gunmen," he told Reuters via telephone. "They forced us to go inside the rooms and now we cannot leave".
The identity of the assailants was not clear, but Ramadi is one of two cities in Anbar that were overrun at the start of the year by tribal and Sunni insurgents, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The government has since regained control of central Ramadi, where the city council and other offices are located, but the city's suburbs and outlying areas are still the scene of hit and run attacks by militants.