Khazir (Iraq) (AFP) - Jihadists with the Islamic State group were shaving their beards and changing hideouts in Mosul, residents said, as a major Iraqi offensive moved ever closer to the city.
With pressure building on the 10th day of the Mosul assault, Western defence chiefs were already looking ahead to the next target -- IS's other major stronghold of Raqa in Syria.
Recent advances on the eastern front have brought elite Iraqi forces to within five kilometres (three miles) of Mosul, and residents reached by AFP said the jihadists seemed to be preparing for an assault on the city itself.
"I saw some Daesh (IS) members and they looked completely different from the last time I saw them," eastern Mosul resident Abu Saif said.
"They had trimmed their beards and changed their clothes," the former businessman said. "They must be scared... they are also probably preparing to escape the city."I thought the beards were required by their odd form of Islam. Perhaps they are preparing to be refugees moving to America.