Bombs, hostage-taking rock streets of Baghdad; 24 dead
BAGHDAD -- A suicide car bomber struck a crowded area beside one of the capital's historic Sunni mosques yesterday, killing 24 people and injuring 68, authorities said.
The location of the blast, about a mile to the east of the heavily fortified Green Zone, appeared to have been chosen opportunistically when the driver approached a checkpoint manned by Iraqi security forces who blocked it from passing farther, a witness said.
"Before the blast, I heard soldiers at the army checkpoint saying 'Stop!' to the man driving the car," said Abu Noor, 36, who was passing through the checkpoint on a motorcycle. "I heard them loudly asking him where he was going, but he would not answer. When he was verified to be suspicious, the soldiers opened fire on his car and that was when he blew himself up."
Kamil Abdullah, the 40-year-old owner of an insecticide shop more than 100 yards from the site near the Gaylani Mosque, said the explosion was so powerful that he was knocked unconscious and woke up more than an hour later at a nearby hospital.
Only blocks away in central Baghdad, a separate violent scene played out earlier in the day. Gunmen stopped two small buses and took as hostages 21 passengers who were attempting to make their way to the eastern side of the city.
US and Iraqi security forces formed a perimeter around the abduction site in the Fadhil area and engaged the militants in a battle in the busy, cramped commercial area. The fighting, at times carried out with mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades, left three police officers dead and four other people injured.
Late in the day, the narrow alleyways of the Sunni-dominated neighborhood were in ruins in some places. Banks, office spaces, and other commercial enterprises were emptied, and many were pockmarked with bullet holes. By nightfall, the fate of the hostages was still unclear.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, at least eight other explosions caused by bombs, mortars, or rocket fire resulted in at least 21 people killed. Outbreaks by gunmen were blamed for at least one additional death, police said.
Police found another 33 people dead, the apparent victims of sectarian death squads, according to a source in the Interior Ministry.