Suicide attacks kill 26 in Iraq, Syria as US-led airstrikes pound ISIL targets
BAGHDAD // At least 26 people were killed by suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria on Monday as the US-led coalition launched more airstrikes against ISIL targets.
In the Taji area north of Baghdad, at least 17 Shiite pilgrims died and 35 were injured when a suicide bomber targeted a tent serving refreshments.
Pilgrims from Iraq and abroad are making their way to Samarra, north of Baghdad, to commemorate the death of Hassan Al Askari – one of the 12 revered Shiite imams, who is buried in the city.
“We were distributing food, fruit and tea to the pilgrims who were walking to Samarra, and a suicide bomber blew himself up,” Sajjad, 25, said at a Baghdad hospital where his brother Mustafa was being treated for shrapnel wounds.
The bomber carried a Shiite flag as a disguise and yelled “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) before detonating the explosives he carried, Sajjad said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but suicide bombings are almost exclusively carried out by Sunni extremists in Iraq, including the ISIL group.
Meanwhile, the group claimed responsibility for a car bomb explosion near a gas plant in Syria’s Homs province on Monday that killed nine people and injured 15 others.
ISIL said the two bombers, both Moroccan, were killed.
However, state news agency Sana said “guards captured the two terrorists who detonated the pick-up truck at the entrance to the plant while they were trying to flee”.
“Five employees and four regime troops guarding the Firqlos gas plant were killed in a car bomb blast near the facility in the east of Homs province,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The militants have targeted oil and gas facilities in Iraq and Syria as the group seeks funds for its fight to seize territory for its self-proclaimed Islamic “caliphate”.
In November, Syrian troops backed by pro-regime militiamen recaptured the Shaer gas field in central Homs province, a week after ISIL fighters overran parts of the complex.
ISIL killed some 350 regime troops and loyalist militiamen, as well as gas plant workers, during its attempt to take Shaer.
Also on Monday, Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias took control of large parts of the Tigris River town of Dhuluiya, north of Baghdad, from ISIL fighters, army sources said.
The assault, which began on Sunday, enabled militia fighters and Iraqi army and federal police to break the militants’ siege of the town 70 km north of Baghdad.
Iraq’s Shiite-led government, backed by US-led airstrikes, has been trying to push back ISIL since it swept through mainly Sunni Muslim provinces of northern Iraq in June, meeting virtually no resistance.
The US-led coalition launched 18 new airstrikes against ISIL on Monday, including 12 in Syria and six in Iraq, said the Combined Joint Task Force.
“Iraqi security forces backed by volunteers [militias] are controlling central parts of Dhuluiya where the government offices are located,” said Khalaf Hammad, a police captain from Dhuluiya. “Now Islamic State fighters are trapped in small areas in the town’s northwest,” he added, referring to the group by its self-declared name.
ISIL fighters had occupied the town’s northern half since June and surrounded the southern half of Dhuluiya where members of the Sunni Al Jubouri tribe had refused to swear allegiance to the militants.
“Since early morning we have been trapped inside homes. The only thing we can hear is the warplanes bombing and machine gun barrages,” said Bado Ahmed, a resident of Dhuluiya. “We are desperately waiting to be liberated from Islamic State.”
Iraq said its helicopter and fighter planes conducted the airstrikes in Dhuluiya.
The Sunni militants had used neighbouring villages to isolate the Jubouri tribesmen fighting ISIL as well as to attack the nearby Shiite town of Balad.
The new offensive was meant to break ISIL’s grip around both Balad and Dhuluiya.
The Observatory said on Sunday that ISIL has murdered nearly 2,000 people in Syria – half of them from an important Sunni tribe – since announcing their “caliphate” in June.
“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the execution by the Islamic State of 1,878 people in Syria between June 28 when it announced its ‘caliphate’ and December 27,” the group said.
It said the victims were shot dead, beheaded or stoned to death in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Hama, Homs, Hasakeh and Raqa.
Of those killed, 1,175 were civilians who included four children and eight women.
* Agence France-Presse and Reuters
Updated: December 30, 2014 04:00 AM