ISIS claims responsibility for suicide bombing south of Baghdad that killed at least 60

Residents gathering at the site of a suicide bombing in Hilla, south of Baghdad, on March 6, 2016.
Residents gathering at the site of a suicide bombing in Hilla, south of Baghdad, on March 6, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGHDAD/HILLA, Iraq (REUTERS, AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack with an explosive-laden fuel tanker on an Iraqi police checkpoint south of Baghdad on Sunday (March 6), killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 70, medical and security officials said.

Responsibility was claimed in a posting on the website of the Amaq news agency, which supports the ultra-hardline Sunni group.

"A martyr's operation with a truck bomb hit the Babylon Ruins checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Hilla, killing and wounding dozens," the statement on the Amaq website said.

Hilla is the capital of Babylon province, a predominantly Shi'ite region with some Sunni presence.

"It's the largest bombing in the province to date," Mr Falah al-Radhi, the head of the provincial security committee, told Reuters. "The checkpoint, the nearby police station were destroyed as well as some houses and dozens of cars."

Officials said the vehicle was a truck packed with explosives and was detonated after being pulled over by checkpoint security as it tried to enter Hilla, which lies 80km south of Baghdad.

Pictures posted on social media showed vast destruction around the checkpoint, where cars are usually bumper-to-bumper at that time of day, queueing to be checked by security personnel.

A provincial hospital official confirmed the number of casualties. Many had suffered burn injuries, with at least 11 of the wounded were in a very serious condition.

ISIS, which carries out nearly all such attacks, has not had fixed positions south of Baghdad since security forces and allied militias began their fightback against the jihadists in late 2014.

A March 2014 suicide bombing at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Hilla killed 50 people and wounded more than 150.

When Iraqi forces began their counter-offensive against ISIS in late 2014, securing the Shi'ite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, south of Baghdad, was a priority.

The jihadist group has been losing territory in Iraq for almost a year. In the most recent operation, Iraqi forces are retaking areas west of the city of Samarra.

In the cities the group retains control over, internal tension appears to be on the rise and the lack of supplies is taking its toll.

Observers have warned that, as their self-proclaimed "caliphate" shrinks towards extinction, ISIS fighters are likely to revert to their old guerrilla tactics and ramp up suicide car bomb attacks on civilian targets.