ISIS suicide bomb kills over 90 in holiday attack

Iraqis gather around a hole caused by a bomb attack a day earlier at Khan bani Saad town, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on July 18, 2015.
Iraqis gather around a hole caused by a bomb attack a day earlier at Khan bani Saad town, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on July 18, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

Latest Iraq violence, chemical weapons threat suggest escalation of group's capabilities

KHAN BANI SAAD (Iraq) • Rescuers in this Iraqi town were searching collapsed buildings for bodies after a huge car bomb ripped through a busy market, killing at least 90 people, including 15 children.

The suicide attack by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was one of the deadliest since it took over swathes of Iraq last year and came as the country marked Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Residents recounted scenes of horror in the aftermath of Friday's attack which came amid reports that the militant group had apparently manufactured rudimentary chemical warfare shells and used them on Kurdish forces.

"What we witnessed cannot be described. Fire, bodies, wounded, women and children screaming... Al-Khan is now a disaster zone," said Mr Salem Abu Moqtada, 34, who sells vegetables in the market.

ISIS said the suicide bomber had three tonnes of explosives in his vehicle. The crater the explosion left in the main street of the town's central Al-Khan neighbourhood was about 5m wide and 2m deep. Several collapsed buildings were still smouldering 12 hours after the attack.

Sunni Muslims began marking Eid al-Fitr on Friday but Iraq's majority Shi'ite community started celebrations yesterday. Markets are usually packed in the days before the holiday as people preparing for large family gatherings shop for food and clothes.

Khan Bani Saad, which is only 20km from Baghdad's northern outskirts, lies in Diyala province. The town is predominantly Shi'ite but has a Sunni minority.

"We do not have an Eid," said Mr Hussein Yassin Khidayyer, a 45-year-old shop owner. "No one wished each other a happy holiday," he added.

Baghdad announced in January that Iraqi forces had "liberated" Diyala, significant parts of which had been overrun by ISIS after their fighters launched a brutally effective offensive last June. ISIS no longer has fixed positions in the province but has reverted to its old tactics of planting car bombs and carrying out suicide operations.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi condemned the attack and vowed to hunt the militants down "in every corner of Iraq".

Iraqi forces are currently pressing a broad offensive in Anbar, where they are tightening the noose on ISIS in the western province's two main cities, Ramadi and Fallujah. The United Nations' top envoy in Iraq, Mr Jan Kubis, expressed his "deepest sorrow".

News of the bombing in Iraq came as Kurdish fighters and weapons experts said that ISIS fired chemical weapons, believed to include chlorine gas, against Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq last month.

The Conflict Armament Research group and Sahan Research said in a statement on Friday the militants targeted Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga with a projectile filled with a chemical agent on June 21 or 22. Experts said the development signalled a potential escalation of the group's capabilities.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 19, 2015, with the headline 'ISIS suicide bomb kills over 90 in holiday attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe