SAMARRA - Suspected Islamic State group militants have killed eight people and wounded four others in two attacks in northern Iraq, security officials said Monday.

The extremist group has stepped up its attacks since the release of a purported new audio message late last month from IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On Monday “seven civilians were killed when militants fired on houses in the village of Albu Shaher”, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city north of Baghdad, a security services official told AFP.

A police officer was wounded in that attack, which also saw militants raid a currency exchange office and steal $20,000 (17,225 euros) before fleeing, he added. Late on Sunday, a man was shot dead and three others were wounded outside a mosque north of Baghdad. The attack took place in the village of Khanouka near Ash-Sharqat, one of the last areas retaken by government forces from IS last year, 100 kilometres north of the capital, a police officer said.

“The man, aged 80, had just finished praying (and was leaving the mosque) when the militants opened fire at him,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either of the attacks.

According to the police officer, IS holdouts are still present in the hills of Khanouka and other mountainous and desert regions of Iraq.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “victory” in December in the fight against IS, which seized nearly a third of the country in 2014.

But sleeper cells continue to launch attacks from sparsely populated areas.

According to Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on radical Islamist groups, about 2,000 IS militants are still active in Iraq.

The elusive leader of the militant group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called on Muslims to wage “jihad” in a purported new audio recording released on August 22.