Al-Qaida group claims hotel blasts in Baghdad
Associated Press Writer
BAGDHAD (AP) – An al-Qaida front group in Iraq claimed Wednesday it carried out the deadly bombings against Baghdad hotels earlier this week, boasting how its suicide bombers could breach the extensive Iraqi security, and that even deadlier attacks were to come.
The same group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for three previous waves of coordinated bombings in Baghdad going back to August. The attacks have hit government offices or high-profile sites in the Iraqi capital.
In a statement posted Wednesday on a militant Web site, the al-Qaida group claimed responsibility for the triple suicide blasts on Monday that targeted three hotels favored by Western journalists and security contractors. At least 41 people were killed.
It claimed the suicide car bombers were able to get through checkpoints and bypass security barriers.
Iraqi authorities have faced an outcry over apparent security lapses and the latest attacks could increase pressure on the Shiite-led government before national elections on March 7.
The authenticity of the Islamic State of Iraq claim could not be independently verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used for militant messaging.
The statement said the latest attacks – which it called “a fourth thunderous wave” – seek to show that government leaders and foreigners are not safe in Baghdad. The three previous multiple bombings – in August, October and December – claimed more than 380 lives.
The group warned of more attacks. “What is coming will be tougher on them,” the statement said.
Following the hotel bombings, a suicide bomb attack Tuesday against Baghdad’s main crime lab killed at least 22 people. There has been no claim of responsibility for that attack so far.
The attacks are a stark counterpoint to the overall decline in violence around Iraq.
Iraqi officials, meanwhile, are investigating their use of a handheld bomb-detecting device that Britain banned for export because of questions about whether it works. The ADE651 device made by the British company ATSC is used at security checkpoints across Baghdad, and its makers claim it can detect explosives at a distance.
Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told The Associated Press that the devices will continue to be used at checkpoints while a committee looks into their effectiveness. He said security officials and explosives experts on the committee will present their findings within two weeks.
Elsewhere Wednesday, two people were killed in a drive-by shooting targeting buses carrying Iranian Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, two police officials said.
Gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on the buses as they passed through a Sunni-dominated neighborhood on their way to the shrine of Imam Mousa al-Kazim, a much revered saint.
An Iranian woman and an Iraqi bus driver were killed in the attack, the officials said. Five pilgrims also were injured.
In northern Iraq, a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a police compound Wednesday in Zumar, a town 45 miles (70 kilometers) west of Mosul, wounding an American soldier and three Iraqis, Maj. Joe Scrocca, a U.S. military spokesman said.
The bomber was attempting to enter the compound when he was spotted by Iraqi police, who opened fire just before he detonated his explosives belt, he said. The three Iraqis wounded were policemen.
Also in northern Iraq, four gunmen ambushed and killed a district official as he was leaving his home in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, another police official said. Police believe Jassim Attiyah Khalaf was targeted because he works closely with security forces, the official said.
Meanwhile, Iranian forces stationed near Iraq’s al-Fakkah oil field along the two countries’ disputed border since Dec. 17 have pulled back to the Iranian border, a security official said. The Iranians pulled back to Iran on Wednesday, following bilateral meetings earlier this month.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Associated Press Writers Chelsea J. Carter and Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.