BAGHDAD - The Islamic State group launched a major attack on the Iraqi city of Ramadi Friday, attempting to seize one of the last urban pockets under government control in troubled Anbar province.

Parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, and all of Fallujah to its east, fell to anti-government forces in January.

In June, IS-led militants began overrunning more of Anbar and have gained further ground in recent weeks, raising fears that the province, which stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the western approach to Baghdad, could fall completely.

“IS launched a surprise attack from four directions - north, west, east and south of Ramadi,” a police first lieutenant in the city told AFP by telephone Friday. “A series of mortar attacks have targeted areas inside the city, including provincial council buildings and a police post,” the officer added. Police Captain Qusay al-Dulaimi said “the mortar fire has been continuous since midnight.” Unlike in the past, mosque loudspeakers called on people to fight IS rather than resist government forces. Soldiers, police and tribal fighters were able to retake one area the militants had seized and hold off attacks on others, deputy provincial council chief Faleh al-Essawi and tribal leader Sheikh Rafa Abdulkarim said.

But the sound of gunfire could still be heard in the city early Friday evening, indicating that fighting in the area was not over. The attacks killed at least six people, including police Colonel Majid al-Fahdawi, security and medical sources said. Essawi said 12 militants died in the fighting. A fresh spate of attacks in recent weeks has seen the militants extend their grip over the province, where only a handful of pockets remain under the control of Iraqi security forces backed by Shia militias and tribal fighters. But there is still little threat of a direct assault on Baghdad, as militants would have to gain much more ground for one to be viable.

Meanwhile, in the northern town of Zab, IS gunmen publicly executed two young men Friday for allegedly cooperating with security forces. The killings are just the latest in a long series of atrocities, including hundreds of executions, carried out by IS in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Iraqi security forces performed poorly when faced with the initial militant-led onslaught in June, with several divisions collapsing in the north. But with support from a US-led campaign of air strikes and foreign military advisors, they have retaken some areas. Even so, three key cities and large chunks of other territory remain in militant hands. The US Central Command announced Wednesday that coalition forces carried out 30 air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria from Tuesday to Thursday, 23 of them in Iraq.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that “international cooperation” was necessary to crush the Islamic State group, which is the target of a US-led campaign. “The region is going through decisive times” and the most important factor in determining the outcome is whether there is “real and sincere international cooperation” against the militants, Assad said.

Meanwhile, a blonde, blue-eyed Dutch teenager from a Catholic family who was rescued by her mother after marrying an Islamic State fighter in Syria is to appear in court Friday on terror charges.

Nineteen-year-old Aicha arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday with her mother Monique after going to Syria in February to marry an IS fighter she saw as a Robin Hood figure. Annemarie Kemp, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office, told AFP Aicha had been arrested “on suspicion of crimes threatening state security”.

She will make a brief court appearance behind closed doors on Friday to decide if she should remain in detention, with another hearing on Monday to decide if she should be charged. As is routine in the preliminary stage of Dutch prosecutions, Aicha’s family name was not made public.

European nations are increasingly concerned about returning militant fighters, but the question of what to do with women who travel to Iraq and Syria but do not fight is a thorny one.

The authorities have barred Monique and Aicha’s lawyers from talking to the press because of the sensitivity of the case.

But Monique, 49, has previously spoken at length to Dutch media about her daughter, previously known as Sterlina before adopting an Arab name, who “liked going out, playing the piano and listening to music”.

The turning point came when Aicha saw an interview on Dutch television with a Dutch-Turkish militant fighter, Omar Yilmaz.

Yilmaz, a former soldier in the Dutch army who also did national service in Turkey, is one of a group of Dutch militants who have travelled to Syria where he is training fighters for the IS group

“Look at that man, it’s so good what he’s doing,” Aicha told her mother, who said she saw him as a Robin Hood figure.

Dutch authorities confiscated Aicha’s passport to prevent her travelling to Syria following warnings from a friend. But she obtained an identity card, which is obligatory in the Netherlands, with which she could travel.

In the interview with Dutch television, Yilmaz, a handsome, wiry man with shaved head and a beard, explained how he had come to train IS recruits to shoot.

He said that he had been approached by a brother to “give some fighters some extras tips and tools, so that when there is a firefight and when we ship them out, they know what they are doing”.

“If Dutch forces would send a unit or fighters to Syria to help the people, I would be the first to sign up for the Dutch army. But nobody is doing anything.”

Aicha asked her mother to help her after her marriage to Yilmaz failed and she ended up with a Tunisian fighter, the Dutch tabloid daily Algemeen Dagblad said.

The paper reported that a niqab-wearing Monique crossed the border into Syria and travelled to the IS stronghold city of Raqa, but the Dutch prosecutor’s office said they had met at the Turkish-Syrian border.

Roger Bos of the public prosecutor’s office in southern city Maastricht, told local television channel L1 that Aicha needed support.

“I think that psychologically she needs support and she has that from her mother. Physically, I don’t think she has any problems,” Bos said.

“Is she a victim or a suspect? Maybe she’s both.”

“We don’t know what she did over there, what her role was. Did she just stay at the home of the man she married there?”

Around 130 Dutch militants have left to fight in Syria, with 30 already having returned and 14 others killed in the fighting, according to the latest statistics from the Dutch intelligence services.

It is feared that returning militants, having been exposed to extreme violence, could be returning to Europe with orders to carry out terror attacks.