Suicide bomber kills 29 praying in Iraq mosque
BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber blew himself up inside Baghdad’s largest Sunni mosque last night, killing 29 people during prayers in a shocking strike on a place of worship similar to the one that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war five years ago.
Iraqi security officials said Parliament lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi, a Sunni, was among the dead in the 9:40 p.m. attack.
Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad’s military operations command, confirmed the bombing happened inside the Um al-Qura mosque during prayers in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Al Jamiaah.
Two security officials and medics at two Baghdad hospitals put the casualty toll at 29 dead and 38 wounded. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Moussawi put the death toll at only six and said there was no significant damage to the mosque. Conflicting death tolls are common immediately after attacks in Iraq.
In a statement, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Iraqis to stand strong against terrorists and “pursue them wherever they are.’’
“Solidarity and unity, and standing as one line behind the army and the police, are the only way to eliminate this danger, which does not differentiate between the Iraqis and targets all of us,’’ Maliki said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but suicide attacks generally are a hallmark of Al Qaeda, which is dominated by Sunnis. Intelligence officials have speculated that Al Qaeda will do almost anything to re-ignite sectarian violence, but the group recently had focused on attacking Iraqi security forces and the government to prove how unstable Iraq remains.
“I heard something like a very severe wind storm, with smoke and darkness, and shots by the guards,’’ said a shaken Mohammad Mustafa, who was inside and hit in the hand by shrapnel.
“How could this occur?’’ he said. “Is Al Qaeda able to carry out their acts against worshippers? How did this breach happen?’’
That the bomber detonated his explosives vest inside the mosque is particularly alarming, as it is reminiscent of a 2006 attack on a Shi’ite shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra that fueled widespread violence and nearly ignited a nationwide civil war. In that strike, Sunni militants planted bombs around the Samarra shrine, destroying its signature gold dome and badly damaging the rest of the structure.
Yesterday’s attack hit Sunnis who were praying in a special service during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which ends tomorrow.