At least 32 dead in Baghdad twin suicide bombing

Sofia Barbarani
·3 min read
A view of he aftermath of the bombing - Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
A view of he aftermath of the bombing - Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters

At least 32 people were killed and 110 injured on Thursday when Islamic State suicide bombers targeted a busy market in central Baghdad, in the deadliest such attack in the city for three years.

The Iraqi interior ministry said the explosions near Tayaran Square, the scene of a previous IS suicide attack, had been designed to cause maximum casualties, and the bombers had appealed to passers-by for assistance before detonating their vests.

"The first suicide bomber said he was sick, asked for help, gathered people around him and detonated the bomb," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday morning’s attack. "The second suicide bomb detonated as soon as others gathered to help the victims of the first bomb."

Police sources said many of the victims had died instantly while others were missing or seriously injured in hospital. They included shoppers, stall-holders and day labourers who had come to the square to look for work.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack via the messaging app Telegram, saying the target was Shiite Muslims.

Yehia Rahool, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, said that security forces had received information about an imminent attack from an IS commander who was arrested last week in Baghdad.

He added that they had been pursuing the two suspects, but were unable to prevent the bombings.

Video footage shared on social media showed an explosion engulfing a small crowd on a busy street, and several casualties lying among the remains of stalls selling second-hand clothes and shoes.

A street vendor at the market who was standing nearby said: "one [bomber] came, fell to the ground and started complaining 'my stomach is hurting' and he pressed the detonator in his hand. It exploded immediately. People were torn to pieces."

James Cleverly, the Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, said: “I am utterly appalled at this devastating blast at a busy Baghdad market this morning. The UK stands firmly with Iraqis in the fight against terrorism.”

After years of deadly sectarian violence, suicide bombings have become relatively rare in the Iraqi capital. IS claimed responsibility for the last such attack - also at Tayaran Square – in January 2018, which killed at least 35 people. Only a month earlier, the Iraqi government declared victory in its war against the terror group.

Up to 10,000 IS jihadists are estimated to remain at large in Iraq and Syria and have stepped up a guerrilla-style campaign against security forces and civilians in recent months, despite the efforts of the Iraqi Army and a US-led military coalition.

Jihadists have boasted of exploiting the disruption and economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Iraqi security forces examining the devastated open-air market - Hadi Mizban/AP
Iraqi security forces examining the devastated open-air market - Hadi Mizban/AP

Barham Salih, the Iraqi President, suggested the timing of the attacks could be linked to early parliamentary elections, which are due to take place in October.

“We stand firmly against these rogue attempts to destabilise our country,” he added.

The former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord party, also denounced the “cowardly” attack, but said it raised questions about his country’s ability to uncover IS sleeper cells.

“I have long warned against terrorist groups taking advantage of the absence of political stability and the aggravation of the economic crisis to carry out their terrorist actions,” Mr Allawi added.

By the afternoon, a security cordon had been lifted in the Bab al-Sharqi neighbourhood where the bombings took place and traders and shoppers had returned to the market.

Sitting on the pavement, 18-year-old coffee-seller Sadiq Jaafar recalled running for cover seconds after the first explosion.

“At the beginning it was a minor explosion, then the second one was stronger,” he said, holding two cups and a dallah, a traditional coffee pot. “I escaped, [luckily] I didn’t get anywhere near the explosion – I would have died.”