MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Three suicide bombers stormed into a police battalion headquarters on Wednesday and killed the commander in the restive northern Iraqi city of Mosul, police sources said.
The sources said three militants detonated their explosive vests in the office of Lieutenant Colonel Shamil Ahmed, who headed the battalion in Mosul’s western area of Bab Sinjar. Mosul is considered the last urban stronghold of the Islamic militant group al Qaeda in Iraq.
A fourth suicide bomber was killed by police before he was able to enter the main building.
“At about 5.45am (02:45 British time), I heard gunshots. I jumped up from my bed and my colleague and I grabbed our pistols. When we opened the door, we saw some men, dressed in black, entering the commander’s room, which is near ours,” policeman Ahmed Mahmoud told Reuters.
“Suddenly, after that, there was a huge blast inside the commander’s room and everything around us collapsed. I fell on the ground. I was in shock. I didn’t know what had happened.”
Police sources, who initially said only two suicide bombers had entered the police commander’s room, said they had retrieved the remains of a third bomber in the debris.
One other policeman was injured in the attack, a police source said.
A source at the city morgue said it had received the remains of three of the suicide bombers as well as the body of the fourth attacker, riddled with bullet wounds.
Mahmoud said the commander had probably been targeted because of his campaign against al Qaeda. He had led an operation this month in which al Qaeda members were arrested and a senior leader was killed.
Another police source said Ahmed had recently received numerous death threats from the Islamist militant group. He escaped an attempt on his life last year.
The northern city of Mosul, about 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, remains one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.
While Iraqi and U.S. forces say they have made major strides this year against a stubborn insurgency, militants have stepped up attacks on Iraqi troops and police in recent months as the U.S. military pulls back more than seven years after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
At Ahmed’s funeral, held hours after the blast, the mood was defiant. More than 30 police vehicles, including military Humvees, joined the procession to bury the commander. Policemen fired into the air for around half an hour to express anger.
“I know why they killed him. (It was) because he broke the back of al Qaeda in Mosul,” Ahmed’s 60-year-old father, Ahmed al-Jibouri, told Reuters.
“But we will not yield, we will not submit. The wheel must keep turning. We have to exterminate these harmful insects, those that use Islam as a cover to kill innocent people.”
Although overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-7, bombings and other attacks are still a daily occurrence.
On Monday, twin suicide bombings rocked a government compound in the city of Ramadi, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding dozens.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Caroline Drees and Peter Graff