BAGHDAD - An Iraqi military helicopter has been shot down by Islamic State militants near the Sunni-dominated city of Samarra, killing the two pilots. The Sunni extremists also were reported on the verge of taking a western Iraqi town from poorly equipped government forces.
Iraqi media reported Saturday that the military helicopter had been shot down near Mutassem, a strategic entry to the Shiite holy city of Samarra about 80 miles north of the capital.
It wasn't immediately clear what type of helicopter was shot down, or exactly when. Iraq's Alhurra TV channel reported that a helicopter was shot down Saturday, as did the Associated Press, but antigovernment activists claimed at least one helicopter, maybe two, were downed Friday.
Iraqi defense ministry officials in Samarra said they could not confirm details of the crash.
Central Samarra has been secured by the Iraqi army and several Shiite militias who have led the battle against Islamic State, which controls much of northern and western Iraq as well as parts of Syria.
The group wrested control of Mutassem from the government three months ago, touting the victory online with a series of graphic photos showing Iraqi soldiers' corpses in the streets. U.S. and Iraqi forces have since tried to retake the area through airstrikes that so far have proved unsuccessful - although on Saturday, the Iraqi government said it had liberated Mutassem.
Islamic State in recent months has shot down at least two other Iraqi military helicopters near another central Iraqi city - Baiji, home to a lucrative refinery that could prove a strategic coup for the group.
Islamic State also attacked the western Anbar province city of Wafaa on Saturday, killing police and trapping government officials in the community about 90 miles west of Baghdad.