BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Suicide bombers struck Shi’ite worshippers as they gathered for prayers at two mosques in Baghdad to celebrate the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast on Thursday, killing 16 people and wounding nearly 60, officials said.
For most of Iraq’s Shi’ites Thursday is the main day of Eid, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It is one of the Muslim calendar’s most festive days when families exchange gifts and dress in their finest to attend prayers and feasts.
A leg and other body parts could be seen more than 100 metres from where a bomber detonated a taxi after ramming it into a police vehicle guarding a Shi’ite prayer hall in the Zafaraniya district, said a Reuters TV cameraman at the scene.
A vegetable truck used to carry away the bodies was covered in blood, and glass was shattered in surrounding buildings.
Baghdad security spokesman Major-General Qassim Moussawi said the Zafaraniya attack killed 10 people and wounded 31.
In the other strike, in the New Baghdad district, the bomber was a teenage boy, who was accosted by a member of the security forces before blowing himself up 80 metres from a mosque, killing six people and wounding 26, Moussawi said.
“The appalling use of a teenager as a suicide bomber shows how monstrous AQI is,” said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant- Colonel Steven Stover, referring to al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni Arab militants who sympathise with Osama bin Laden’s network.
He said Iraqi security forces who stopped the bomber outside the mosque had prevented a “much higher loss of life.”
Both districts are Shi’ite areas in the east of the capital. The death tolls could rise, police said.
Suicide bombs — increasingly borne by women or teens — are the signature tactic of al Qaeda and like-minded Sunni Arab militants who frequently target Shi’ite civilians during religious festivals.
Government officials had warned that militants might strike during the Eid holiday, which Sunni Muslims and some Shi’ites began observing earlier in the week.
In another attack in western Baghdad, a car bomb hit a U.S. military patrol, wounding four American soldiers, Stover said.
Outside the capital, gunmen opened fire on a minibus carrying a family to an Eid celebration in volatile Diyala province. They killed six people, including women and children.
Thursday’s strikes were the second major spate of attacks in recent days linked to Eid. On Sunday evening, four bombs killed at least 32 people in Baghdad, many of them out buying Eid gifts in the busy Karrada shopping district.
The government has declared a six-day public holiday to cover sects who observe Eid on different days.
Violence overall in Iraq is at four-year lows and al Qaeda militants no longer control large numbers of villages and city districts as they did until 2007. But militant cells are still active and able to carry out bomb attacks.
Suicide bombers killed dozens of worshippers during Shi’ite pilgrimages in July and August this year.
Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Charles Dick