Three Blasts Kill 79 in Main Baghdad Mosque

A woman talks on her phone outside Baghdad's Baratha mosque, which is affiliated with the largest Shiite religious party in Iraq's governing coalition.
A woman talks on her phone outside Baghdad's Baratha mosque, which is affiliated with the largest Shiite religious party in Iraq's governing coalition. (By Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 8, 2006

BAGHDAD, April 7 -- Suicide bombers stalked through the leading Shiite Muslim mosque in Baghdad on Friday, setting off explosions that killed some worshipers as they streamed out after prayers and others as they surged back inside for safety, witnesses and police said.

As many as 79 people died in the three blasts that ripped through hundreds of faithful at the Baratha mosque, the Baghdad religious center for the biggest Shiite religious party in Iraq's governing coalition.

In an intensifying 1 1/2 -month-old campaign of violence targeting Shiite shrines, Friday's attack was the second in as many days at a mosque associated with one of Iraq's governing Shiite religious parties, which rule Iraq through the loyalty of the Shiite majority and the parties' armed militias. On Thursday, a car bombing near the Imam Ali mosque in the southern city of Najaf killed at least 13 people.

The Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the largely Sunni Arab city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, has touched off Iraq's worst sectarian violence since U.S. forces invaded three years ago.

"The ground was all flesh and blood," said Abbas Talib, 53, a gas station attendant who rushed into the Baratha mosque after Friday's blasts. His blue jumpsuit and hands were soaked with the blood of the people he had carried out.

"I saw the bodies and blood covering the walls and ground. Many people died inside," said Talib, who said he brought out 12 bleeding bodies without pausing to see if they were dead or alive. "Many died."

Baghdad had been on high alert amid rumors that car bombers were roaming the streets Friday looking for targets.

At the Baratha mosque, affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, security is routinely rigid and worshipers are body-searched as they enter. But the bombers apparently slipped in as worshipers left the mosque after prayers. News agencies quoted a police officer as saying two of the bombers were dressed in the all-covering black cloak worn by Shiite women, hiding the bombs that were strapped to them.

The first explosion tore through worshipers at the main exit, witnesses said. Survivors rushed back inside the mosque, where a second bomb went off three minutes later. Ten seconds after that, a third bomb exploded.

Jalal al-Sagheer, the mosque's usual Friday preacher and a leading Shiite politician, told the Associated Press that the second bomber raced into the mosque's courtyard. The third bomber came to Sagheer's office, he said. He escaped injury.

Outside, survivors clambered up the fence around the mosque and leapt over, fearing more bombs. Blood-soaked wounded ran through the streets, looking for a place to hide.

"Don't gather in one spot! Don't gather in one spot!" police loudspeakers warned.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company