Shooting, bombing in northern Iraq

  • 13/05/2016

Three gunmen have opened fire overnight on a cafe in northern Iraq where young men had gathered at the start of the weekend, killing at least 12 and wounding 25, police and hospital sources say.

The assailants in the predominantly Shi'ite Muslim town of Balad, 80km north of Baghdad, sprayed machine gun fire from their cars for about 10 minutes before speeding off.

Hours later a suicide bomber set off his explosive vest at a nearby vegetable market after police and Shi'ite militia members cornered him in a disused building and exchanged gunfire, security sources said. Four were killed and two critically wounded, medical sources added.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks but the area, which was nearly overrun by Islamic State militants in 2014, remains around 40km from a frontline held by Shi'ite militiamen.

The attackers had passed three police checkpoints before reaching their target, said police sources.

Security forces deployed throughout the town on Friday morning (local time), fearing more attacks.

An intelligence source said fighters from the powerful Iranian-backed Badr Organisation raided a nearby house and detained 13 members of a Sunni family. There were reports of gunfire in an adjacent orchard.

Iraqi authorities have come under heightened criticism over security breaches that allowed suicide attackers to set off three bombs on Wednesday in Baghdad, killing at least 80 people in the bloodiest day in the capital so far this year.

The country is also facing a political crisis over a cabinet overhaul that has crippled government for weeks and threatens to undermine the US-backed war against Islamic State, which still controls swathes of territory in the north and west which it seized in 2014.