A suicide car bomber rammed into a Shiite mosque in Baghdad during dawn prayers yesterday, killing 14 people and stoking fears that sectarian divisions over when to hold elections could unleash further bloodshed.
Witnesses said there were two blasts -- an initial explosion during prayers and a second blast as rescuers tried to drag out the dead and wounded at the mosque in Aad-hamiya, a mainly Sunni neighborhood and guerrilla stronghold in northern Baghdad. It was not immediately clear if the casualties were police or civilians. At least 19 people were wounded, an interior ministry source said.
In another dawn attack in the southwest of Baghdad, gunmen fired mortars at a police station in the Seydiya district before bursting into the compound and hunting down policemen inside, survivors of the attack said. Eleven policemen were killed and six were wounded.
The insurgents also freed around 50 prisoners from the jail in the station and set two police pickup trucks ablaze. Clouds of thick, dark smoke poured into the air.
"I saw armed men firing towards the police station while taking cover behind rubbish bins and the police ran away," said local inhabitant Ahmed Hashem..
Another resident, Ali Hussein, said gunfire lasted about an hour and that he had seen gunmen firing on the police station from the rooftops of neighboring buildings.
A heavy police presence had sealed off the area several hours after the attack, preventing journalists from entering the police station, whose walls were riddled with bullet holes. Hundreds of spent bullet cartridges lay scattered on the ground and two police cars were left burnt-out.
In an Internet statement, the group led by Jordanian al- Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attack: "The lions of al-Qaeda in Iraq attacked the headquarters of the apostates who sold their religion, honor and land ... and attacked the Seydiya police station, killing everyone inside except for two who fled."
An interior ministry spokesman said the mosque attack was "part of a strategy of increasing terrorist attacks in order to prevent general elections being held".