More than 100 people were killed in a suicide car bombing at a busy market in an Iraqi town on Friday, in one of the deadliest attacks carried out by Islamic State militants since they overran large parts of the country.
|Iraqi officials said Saturday that the official death toll had risen to 115, with 170 wounded, reported The Associated Press.|
The blast brought down several buildings in Khan Bani Saad, about 30 km (20 miles) northeast of Baghdad, crushing to death people who were celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, police and medics said.
Islamic State, which controls large parts of northern and western Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack in the mixed eastern province of Diyala where Khan Bani Saad is located and said the target was "rejectionists," as the group refers to Shi'ite Muslims.
Angry crowds went on the rampage after the explosion, smashing the windows of cars parked in the street in grief and anger. Body parts were flung onto the roofs of nearby buildings by the force of the blast, police said.
Police major Ahmed al-Tamimi at the site of the explosion, described the damage to the market as "devastating."
An officer from the Diyala police command said rescue crews were still retrieving bodies from under the debris so the death toll could rise.
The Diyala provincial government declared three days' mourning and ordered all parks and entertainment places to close for the rest of the Eid al-Fitr holiday to pre-empt any further attacks.
Islamic State said in a statement issued on Twitter that the attack was to avenge the killing of Sunni Muslims in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija, and that the suicide car bomber was carrying around three tonnes of explosives.
Iraqi officials declared victory over Islamic State in Diyala earlier this year after security forces and Shi'ite paramilitaries drove them out of towns and villages there, but the insurgents remain active in the province.
Security forces and militia groups are currently focused on the western province of Anbar, where they have been gearing up for an offensive to retake the mainly Sunni governorate - Iraq's largest.
The United Nations said earlier this week that nearly 15,000 people had been killed in the 16-month period up to April 30.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has arrested 431 people suspected of belonging to Islamic State cells and thwarted attacks on mosques, security forces and a diplomatic mission, the interior ministry said on Saturday.
The announcement came after a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint near the kingdom's highest security prison on Thursday, killing the driver and wounding two security officials in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
A string of deadly attacks carried out by followers of the ultra-hardline militant group based in Iraq and Syria has fueled concerns about a growing threat of militancy in the world's top oil exporter.
"The number arrested to date is 431, most of them citizens, in addition to participants from other nationalities ... six successive suicide operations which targeted mosques in the Eastern province on every Friday timed with assassinations of security men were thwarted," the ministry statement posted on the official news agency SPA said.
"Terrorist plots to target a diplomatic mission, security and government facilities in Sharurah province and the assassination of security men were thwarted," it said.
Islamic State has called on supporters to carry out attacks in the kingdom and killed 25 people in two suicide bombings at Shi'ite Muslim mosques in the country's east in May.
A Saudi man, reportedly aided by several other men from the kingdom, blew himself up in a Shi'ite mosque and killed 27 worshippers in June.
The group says its priority target is the Arabian peninsula and in particular Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's holiest places, from where it plans to expel Shi'ite Muslims.
The interior ministry said the suspects arrested in the kingdom were carrying out "schemes directed from trouble spots abroad and are aimed at inciting sectarian strife and chaos."
(Reporting by Baghdad Bureau; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Toni Reinhold)
(Reporting by Noah Browning in Dubai; Editing by Tom Heneghan)