BAGHDAD — Islamic State militants asserted responsibility Friday for coordinated attacks on two of the Iraqi capital’s most upscale hotels. The bombings claimed at least 15 lives as lavish weekend wedding parties were in full swing.
Two cars rigged with explosives blew up within minutes late Thursday night. At least 15 people were killed and 42 wounded, said a security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give out information.
The bombings are likely to shake a revival of Baghdad’s nightlife, which followed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s lifting of a decade-old midnight curfew in February.
A statement from the Islamic State posted on the Internet claimed that it carried out the attack, which would be one of the group’s most high-profile in the capital since the militants took control of much of the country’s north last summer.
The statement said an Iraqi operative for the Islamic State parked one car at Baghdad’s Cristal Grand Ishtar hotel, then drove another to the $250-a-night Babylon Hotel and blew himself up there.
The Islamic State’s frequent suicide bombings normally target Shiite neighborhoods in the city, striking restaurants and busy shopping streets.
Iraqi security officials have linked an increasing pace of bombings in Baghdad to rising pressure on Islamic State militants on the battlefield. Iraq’s government security forces and Shiite militias launched an offensive this week to retake the western city of Ramadi from the group.
The first explosion hit the Babylon Hotel in the Jadriya neighborhood, where a bulldozer was scooping up rubble Friday below gaping windows and in front of the destroyed lobby. The hotel, a prominent feature of Baghdad’s skyline, faces the U.S. Embassy and Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone across the Tigris River.
Security camera footage of the attack broadcast on Sumaria television shows what the report claimed was the vehicle carrying the explosives entering the hotel through its security gate — where it is waved on without being checked. Another camera shows the car accelerating toward the hotel lobby.
Furqan Ali, 28, who works in a nearby restaurant, described scenes of chaos as the explosion blew out the restaurant’s windows and workers fled the area of the hotel. Security guards on the gate normally use sniffer dogs, he said, speculating that the bomber had inside help to get through the gate’s normally stringent checks.
The Babylon, run by Warwick International Hotels, had reopened this year after a major refurbishment — including a new swimming pool and spa. It was frequented by foreign businessmen.
The second blast hit near the Cristal Grand Ishtar, formerly the Sheraton. After the blast, black smoke could be seen snaking into the night sky amid the rattle of gunfire and the wailing of ambulance sirens.
The hotel’s manager, Faez al-Sufer, said that the driver had sneaked the vehicle in with a wedding convoy while multiple celebrations crammed the hotel’s function rooms on the first night of the weekend.
“On Thursday, there’s a lot of pressure because of visitors to the nightclub and wedding parties,” he said. “The checking and security procedures were thorough.”
The car with the explosives was left in the hotel’s parking lot, he said, and parts of its engine were later found on the hotel’s sixth floor. At least 30 cars were destroyed, he said. The twisted, blackened hulks littered the parking lot Friday.
Ninety rooms were damaged, the manager said, putting the total cost at about $4 million.
But he said the hotel would still open its doors to wedding parties Friday night. “We will keep challenging the terrorists,” he said.
Sufer said that no one had died in the attack but that at least 10 security guards were injured.
A third bomb was found and defused in the Babylon’s parking lot, said Saad Maan, a spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry.
“They are choosing famous hotels in Baghdad to get attention,” Maan said. “This is part of their strategy.”
Sunni extremists have a history of attacking the Iraqi capital’s most prominent hotels.
In 2010, the Babylon and the Sheraton were hit in a coordinated bombing attack. The Hamra Hotel, often frequented by journalists, was also targeted and never reopened. At least 36 people were killed in those attacks.