A pair of bombs ripped through central Baghdad just after dawn yesterday, killing three people and injuring 21, police said.
The bombs, designed to kill the maximum number of people, were planted next to each other and were detonated in succession in Baghdad's Tahariyat Square, police 1st Lieutenant Thaeir Mahmoud said. Many were injured as they rushed to the scene of the first explosion.
The fresh violence came amid rising fears in the Iraqi capital that Islamic extremists were now targeting men in shorts.
An Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were shot to death last week in Baghdad because they were wearing shorts, authorities said, reporting the latest in a series of recent attacks attributed to Islamic extremists.
A US Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter, meanwhile, crashed on Saturday and its two crew members were missing in Anbar Province, a volatile area west of the capital where insurgents are active.
Hostile fire was not suspected as the cause of the crash, the US military said.
In the Baghdad incident, gunmen stopped a car carrying the Sunni Arab coach and two Shiite players, asked them to step out and then shot them, said Manham Kubba secretary-general of the Iraqi Tennis Union.
Extremists had distributed leaflets warning people in the mostly Sunni neighborhoods of Saidiyah and Ghazaliyah warning people not to wear shorts, police said.
"Wearing shorts by youth are prohibited because it violates the principals of Islamic religion when showing forbidden parts of the body. Also women should wear the veil," the leaflets said.
No one claimed responsibility for the slayings, which come amid worries that Islamic extremism is spreading in the war-torn country.
Sunni cleric Eid al-Zoubayi denounced the attack.
"The Islamic religion is an easy religion and it allows wearing sport shorts as long as they don't show the forbidden parts of the body, so the acts that are targeting the sport are criminal," he said.
It was the second incident involving athletes in just over a week. Fifteen members of a taekwondo team were kidnapped in western Iraq while driving to a training camp in neighboring Jordan on May 17.
Meanwhile, more than 30 people were killed in attacks across Iraq on Saturday, including four who died when a bomb in a parked car exploded near a busy bus station in southern Baghdad.
In addition seven people were wounded in the blast, which bloodied passers-by and damaged a local restaurant.
The Marine helicopter went down while on a maintenance test flight and search and rescue efforts were under way for the missing crew members, the US command said in a statement.
"We are using all the resources available to find our missing comrades," said a Marine spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Salas.
The US military reported that a Marine was killed on Friday by "enemy action" in Anbar Province.
In four separate shootings on Saturday in the capital, gunmen killed a garden store owner; a grocer; a taxi driver and his son; and the owner of a glass store.