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Iraq helicopter shot down by IS

Islamic State group militants have shot down an Iraqi military helicopter, officials said today, killing the two pilots on board and raising fresh concerns about the extremists' ability to attack aircraft amid ongoing US-led coalition air strikes.

The attack happened in the Shiite holy city of Samarra, about 60 miles (95km) north of Baghdad, late yesterday.

A senior Defence Ministry official told the Associated Press that the Sunni militants used a shoulder-fired rocket launcher to shoot down the EC635 helicopter on the outskirts of the city. An army official corroborated the information.

The EC635, built by Airbus Helicopters, is used for transportation, surveillance and combat.

The militants shot down at least two other Iraqi military helicopters near the city of Beiji in October. Some fear the militants may have captured ground-to-air missiles capable of shooting down planes when they overran Iraqi and Syrian army bases this summer.

European airlines including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France, US carrier Delta Air Lines and Dubai-based Emirates changed their commercial flight plans over the summer to avoid Iraqi air space.

The Islamic State group holds about a third of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in its self-styled caliphate.

In Syria, meanwhile, an activist group and a jihadi website said the Islamic State group's police force beheaded four men in the central province of Homs for insulting God.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the four were beheaded yesterday in the province's east, without elaborating.

A jihadi website said the "Islamic police in the state of Homs" carried out a court sentence against the four in the presences of onlookers. Grisly photos posted on the website showed each of the four blindfolded men kneeling, their hands tied behind their backs, as a masked man in a black uniform hit their necks with a cleaver.

The Islamic State group governs its territory according to its radical, violent interpretation of Shariah law. It has carried out other mass killings and beheadings, often recorded and posted online.

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