Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Sunnis blamed for blowing up famed mosque's minarets


Suspected al-Qaeda insurgents yesterday destroyed the two minarets of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra, authorities reported, in a repeat of an attack last year that shattered its famous Golden Dome and unleashed a wave of retaliatory sectarian violence that still bloodies Iraq.

Police said the attack at about 9am involved explosives and brought down the two minarets, which had flanked the dome's ruins. No casualties were reported.

The attack, blamed on Sunni Muslim extremists, immediately stirred fears of a new explosion of Sunni-Shiite bloodshed. State television said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quickly imposed an indefinite curfew on vehicle traffic and large gatherings in Baghdad, as of 3pm yesterday.

The Iraqi leader also met with the US commander in Iraq to ask that US reinforcements be sent into Samarra to help head off new violence in the flashpoint city, al-Maliki's office said.

Al-Maliki's Dawa Party issued a statement blaming al-Qaeda for attempting to "burn Iraq with the fire of sectarian strife" and calling for an immediate investigation.

"We call upon our Iraqi people to exercise self-restraint and not be dragged into reactions like those planned by the killers," it said.

A US military official in northern Iraq confirmed that the towers were destroyed, and said Samarra remained calm as of early yesterday afternoon. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

The powerful blasts shook the town, sending a cloud of dust billowing into the air, said Imad Nagi, who owns a store 100m from the shrine.

"After the dust settled, I couldn't see the minarets any more. So, I closed the shop quickly and went home," he said.

It wasn't immediately clear how the attackers evaded the shrine's guard force, which had been strengthened after the bombing last year.

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