Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Blasts at mosques kill at least 65

SUNNI VERSUS SHIITE The Suicide bombers targeted worshipers at two Shiite mosques in northeastern Iraq, after two attacks near a Baghdad hotel killed six

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

An injured Iraqi resident stands amid the ruins of a destroyed apartment building at the scene of a massive car bomb, close to the al-Hamarra hotel in Baghdad yesterday. Two car bombs exploded near the interior ministry building in central Baghdad, killing six people and wounding at least 43, reports said.

PHOTO: EPA

At least 65 people were killed and 85 wounded when suicide bombers blew themselves up yesterday amid worshippers at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin, northeast of Baghdad, an Iraqi interior ministry source said.

"It is possible that the death toll will increase," said Kariran Ahmed Medid, the head of the main Khanaqin hospital.

The hospital director spoke less than three hours after two suicide bombers wearing explosive belts walked into the Greater and the Smaller Khanaqin mosques during prayers and blew themselves up.

Authorities immediately imposed a curfew in the majority Shiite Kurdish town near the Iranian border, some 170km from Baghdad

A member of the local council said the death toll could exceed 100.

Another blast was reported near a bank in the town, police said.

Ibrahim Ahmed Bajalan, a member of the Diyala Provincial Council, said the destruction was so bad that many bodies were trapped in the rubble of the mosques and couldn't be easily extracted.

"I think there are more than 100 people dead," he told reporters.

The attacks in Khanaqin, a mixed Shiite and Kurdish town, seemed certain to fuel sectarian tensions ahead of a Dec. 15 election that Washington hopes will pave the way for peace and democracy two and a half year after the US-led invasion.

The Shiite- and Kurdish-led government and its US backers are fighting a mainly Sunni Arab insurgency that has frequently targeted civilians in crowded places like mosques and markets.

Police said the bombers entered the small mosques in Khanaqin with explosive belts strapped to their waists and detonated themselves when the buildings were at their busiest -- during prayers on the Muslim holy day.

In Baghdad earlier yesterday, two suicide truck bombs targeted a prominent hotel but failed to pierce the perimeter and destroyed an apartment block instead, killing at least six people, including two children, police said.

The blast was also in the area of an Interior Ministry prison bunker at the center of a detainee abuse scandal that has deepened sectarian tensions, but the US military and security experts said the al-Hamarra Hotel was the primary target.

Police said at least six people died and 40 were wounded in the near simultaneous blasts. There were no reports of foreign casualties. Witnesses at the hotel said some victims' body parts were found in the swimming pool and in the street outside.

Security camera footage showed a white van driving up to blast walls at the perimeter of the hotel complex and exploding. About 20 seconds later the second explosion blew out the camera.

The nearby apartment building was reduced to rubble, about 20 cars were destroyed and dozens of firefighters and soldiers were searching for residents trapped beneath wreckage.

Distraught women in black veils slapped their heads as they surveyed the destruction. A man embraced a weeping woman.

US Colonel Ed Cardon told reporters at the scene that two vehicles drove at blast walls protecting the al-Hamarra.

The plan appeared to be for the first to open a path for the second to breach the outer defenses and cause more damage, he said.

A foreign security consultant said it looked like a clear attempt to get inside the hotel compound.

It was the second major attack on high-profile hotels in Baghdad in a month. The Sheraton and Palestine hotels were hit late last month.

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