Islamic State car bomb in Iraqi capital kills 115

July 4, 2016 1:30 am

Iraqi
firefighters try to extinguish a fire as civilians gather after a car
bomb at a commercial area in Karada neighborhood, Baghdad. Photo / AP

A suicide truck bomb in downtown Baghdad killed 115 people and
wounded nearly 200 others who were out shopping and celebrating early
Sunday ahead of the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, security and
medical officials said.
The attack, claimed by the Islamic State
group, was the deadliest in months in the Iraqi capital, and came
despite a series of recent gains against the extremists, including the
capture of Fallujah, which was believed to have been a source of such
attacks.
The bomb went off shortly after midnight in a crowded
shopping area in the central Karada district, killing at least 115
people and wounding 187, according to a police official. The dead
included at least 15 children, 10 women and six policemen. At least
twelve other people were still missing and feared dead.
Karada is
a major commercial area lined with clothing and jewelry stores,
restaurants and cafes, and was packed with shoppers ahead of Wednesday’s
Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Most of the victims were inside a multi-story shopping and
amusement mall, where dozens burned to death or suffocated, police said.

Iraqi firefighters and civilians carry
bodies of victims killed in a car bomb at a commercial area in Karada
neighborhood in Baghdad, . Photo / AP
It was the deadliest attack in Iraq since July 2015 and
among the worst single bombings in more than a decade of war and
insurgency.
“It was like an earthquake,” said Karim Sami, a
35-year-old street vendor. “I wrapped up my goods and was heading home
when I saw a fireball with a thunderous bombing,” the father of three
said.
“I was so scared to go back and started to make
phone calls to my friends, but none answered.” He said that one of his
friends was killed, another was wounded and one was still missing.
As
with many previous attacks, IS swiftly claimed responsibility for the
bombing in a statement posted online, saying it had targeted Shiite
Muslims. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the
statement, but it was posted on a militant website commonly used by the
extremists.
Firefighters and civilians could be seen carrying the
dead away, their bodies wrapped in blankets and sheets. Smoke billowed
from the shopping center, which was surrounded by the twisted and burned
wreckage of cars and market stalls. A group of women were sitting on
the pavement, crying for their loved ones.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, a
roadside bomb went off in the mostly Shiite Shaab neighborhood, killing
five people and wounding 16, another police officer said. No group
claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of IS
militants.
The Sunni extremists frequently target the country’s
Shiite majority and Shiite-led security forces, viewing them as
apostates deserving of death.
Medical officials confirmed the
casualty figures from both attacks. All officials spoke on condition of
anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
The
attacks came just a little over a week after Iraqi forces declared
Fallujah “fully liberated,” marking a major victory against IS. The
city, less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad, had been the first Iraqi
urban center to fall to IS, in January 2014, and was its last major
stronghold in the vast, Sunni Anbar province.
On Sunday, the
Joint Military Operation Command announced that government forces retook
seven villages south of the IS-held city of Mosul as part of a
small-scale operation started in March aimed at clearing areas outside
the city to cut the supply lines and enable more troops to be deployed
ahead of a major operation.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city,
fell to IS when the militants swept across northern and western Iraq in
the summer of 2014. It is the largest city in the group’s self-styled
caliphate.
Hours after the Baghdad bombing, Iraqi Prime Minister
Haider al-Abadi and lawmakers visited the blast site. Video footage
uploaded to social media showed an angry crowd, with people calling
al-Abadi a “thief” and shouting at his convoy. Eyewitnesses said the
crowd pelted al-Abadi’s car with rocks, shoes and jerry cans.
The
prime minister had received a rare boost after the Fallujah campaign
following months of anti-government protests over political gridlock,
official corruption and poor public services.
He faced renewed
criticism in Karada on Sunday over lax security in the capital, where
security forces at checkpoints still use bomb-detecting wands that were
shown to be useless years ago.
“We are in a state of war, and
these places are targeted. The security can’t focus on the war (against
IS) and forget Baghdad,” Sami, the street vendor, said.
The U.N.
envoy for Iraq, Jan Kubis, described the Karada attack as “a cowardly
and heinous act of unparalleled proportions” and urged the Iraqi
government to redouble its security efforts to protect Iraqis during the
Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
IS militants who “have suffered
defeats at the battlefront are seeking to avenge their losses by
targeting vulnerable civilians,” Kubis added.
The White House also condemned the bombings.
“These
attacks only strengthen our resolve to support Iraqi security forces as
they continue to take back territory from ISIL, just as we continue to
intensify our efforts to root out ISIL’s terrorist network and leaders,”
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement,
referring to IS by an alternative acronym.
At the height of the
extremist group’s power in 2014, IS rendered nearly a third of Iraq out
of government control. Now, the militants are estimated to control only
14 percent of Iraqi territory, according to the prime minister’s office.

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