Islamic State claims deadly attack on Baghdad mall, other carnage across Iraq


Jihadi gunmen and bombers killed at least 12 people in a busy market area of Baghdad while a double blast at a cafe north of the Iraqi capital claimed another 20 lives.

An attack claimed by the Islamic State group and involving suicide explosions, gunfights and hostage-taking in the eastern neighborhood of Baghdad al-Jadida wreaked chaos.

“A car came … gunmen came out of it and spread out. They started shooting, killing people, there were lots of dead people,” said a witness, Salman Hussein.

The shocked young man, wearing a black tracksuit, recounted how one of the attackers held a shop owner and spoke on a mobile phone before detonating his suicide belt.

“The car they came in was laden with explosives and also blew up,” he said.

The head of Baghdad Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Abdelamir al-Shammari, insisted to reporters on the scene that the situation was quickly brought under control.

He denied reports by several officials in the Baghdad police and in the interior ministry that the attackers held several people hostage in the nearby Zahrat Baghdad mall.

But a senior police officer said the attackers entered the mall and took hostages after blowing up a car bomb and spraying gunfire on the street.

“When the security forces got too close, they killed three hostages,” he said. Several other sources gave a similar account of events.

The sequence of the attack, a departure from Islamic State’s usual modus operandi in Baghdad, remained unclear and the statement posted by the jihadis online provided few details.

It said the attack was carried out by “four soldiers of the caliphate” and targeted Shiites.

It said one of the Islamic State members blew himself up in an explosives-laden vehicle when “the apostates sent reinforcements.”

Islamic State claimed that a total of 90 people were killed or wounded but the group has exaggerated the number of casualties caused by its attacks in previous such statements.

“These people were shooting everywhere, there was even one guy with an RPG,” said Fadhel, another witness from Baghdad al-Jadida, a populous Shiite neighborhood.

“I saw the body of small child strewn on the ground over there, human flesh. … What were the sins these people committed to deserve this?” he said.

Police and hospital sources put the casualty toll from the attack, one of the worst to hit Baghdad in months, at 12 dead and more than 30 wounded.

Almost simultaneously, in the late afternoon, bombings killed at least 20 people at a cafe in the town of Muqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad, security officers said.

A bomb exploded at the cafe and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle after people gathered at the scene, a police captain and an army colonel said.

Islamic State also claimed the Muqdadiyah attack and named the suicide bomber as Abu Abdallah, an Iraqi.

The security officers said that Shiites set alight several Sunni homes and a mosque following the attack.

The mixed province of Diyala, where Muqdadiyah is located, was declared liberated by the government almost a year ago but attacks have continued.

Iraq’s intelligence services announced on Dec. 24 they had dismantled a major Islamic State cell and made 40 arrests in Baghdad and Diyala.

At least three people were killed and eight wounded in another car bomb blast in Nahrawan, south of Baghdad.

Monday’s combined attacks made for one of the worst days of violence in months in areas that are not active front-lines.

Islamic State has suffered a number of military setbacks across Iraq in the past year. Security officials say fierce battles and relentless airstrikes have depleted its manpower.

Analysts see that as a reason for the drop in attacks targeting civilians in the capital which were an almost daily occurrence two years ago.

The European Union issued a statement expressing its support to Iraq in the aftermath of the attacks and stressing that “these tragic events underline the fragility of the security situation.”

The Islamic State group is meanwhile claiming responsibility for the Baghdad mall attack that, according to some reports, killed 18 people on Monday. Gunmen stormed into a Baghdad mall after setting off a car bomb and launching a suicide attack at its entrance.

Iraqi officials say the attack, which lasted over an hour, killed at least 18 people and wounded 50 in the city’s mainly Shiite east.

The Islamic State statement, posted online shortly after the attack, said four fighters carried it out and warned of “worse” to come. Iraqi officials say the attack was carried out by seven men. The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

Earlier reports said Iraqi officials initially described the attack as a hostage situation, estimating that 50 people were trapped inside the complex. But Iraqi forces soon surrounded the building and landed troops on the roof. They clashed with the attackers inside, killing two of them, arresting another four and declaring the standoff over.

At least four police were among those killed in the assault, which lasted around an hour and a half, according to the police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Following the attack, authorities shut down the city’s highly fortified Green Zone, home to a number of foreign embassies and most of the country’s political elite. A number of major roads, shopping malls and bridges around the Iraqi capital were also closed for fear of follow-up attacks.

Also on Monday evening, a car bomb in southeast Baghdad in a crowded market area killed five and wounded 12, according to hospital and police officials.

The Islamic State group controls much of northern and western Iraq, but suffered a major defeat last month when Iraqi forces drove the extremists out of the western city of Ramadi, capital of the sprawling Anbar province.

The Isamic State rampage across Iraq in the summer of 2014 was halted several miles away from Baghdad, but the extremist group has claimed a number of attacks in the heavily guarded capital since then.

Bombings meanwhile killed 20 people and wounded dozens at a cafe in the Iraqi town of Muqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad on Monday, officers said.

A bomb exploded at the cafe and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle after people gathered at the scene, a police captain and an army colonel said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but suicide bombings are a tactic frequently used by Sunni militants in Iraq, including the Islamic State group.

The officers said that Shiites set alight several Sunni homes and a mosque following the attack.

A top Iraqi army officer declared that Diyala province, where Muqdadiyah is located, had been “liberated” from Islamic State, but that has not brought an end to attacks by the jihadis.