Saturday, October 17, 2009

BAGHDAD | A suicide bomber who hid among the Sunni congregation in a northern Iraqi mosque sprayed gunfire at Muslim worshippers Friday and then blew himself up, killing at least 15 people, including the imam leading prayers, officials said.

The brazen attack is the latest against Sunni clerics who have increasingly spoken out against al Qaeda in Iraq since U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities at the end of June. The clerics and others fear militants could take advantage of the transition to step up the kind of sectarian attacks that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war two years ago.

The man who opened fire in the mosque in Tal Afar first shot the imam, Abdul-Satar Hassan, before turning his AK-47 assault rifle on worshippers, witnesses said. He detonated his explosives only after running out of ammunition.

Ninety-five people were wounded in the attack, said Ismail Majeed, a doctor at Tal Afar hospital. Imam Hassan, a member of Iraq’s largest Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, was among the 15 people killed, he said.

Sahir Jalal, 37, who was sitting on his prayer rug listening to the sermon, said Imam Hassan had just begun speaking when a tall man in the crowd stood up.

“Then he took out a small rifle from under his jacket and started to shoot,” he said.

Seconds later, the man shouted “God is Great” and detonated explosives strapped to his body, he said.

Ahmed Daoud, 42, who had arrived late for prayers and was about to unfold his prayer rug when the shooting started, said he tried to take shelter.

“Then I hear a big explosion. All the windows in the mosque shattered and then I lost consciousness,” said Mr. Daoud, who was struck in the head and chest by flying glass.

The attack follows a string of others against Sunni clerics in the country.

Earlier this week, the cleric who leads the biggest Sunni mosque in Baghdad was wounded by a bomb attached to his car. Similar attacks killed a Sunni cleric last week in Saqlawiyah, 45 miles northwest of Baghdad, and last month in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Also Friday, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said a Sunni lawmaker accused of being an insurgent ringleader has been detained in Malaysia.

Mohammed al-Dayni slipped through Iraqi custody several months ago, but was detained in Kuala Lumpur, Yassin Majeed said.

Earlier this year, al-Dayni was charged with ordering a wave of attacks that included a 2007 suicide blast in the parliament cafeteria and mortar strikes on Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Al-Dayni tried to flee the country in February on a flight to Jordan, only to have the plane turned back. He slipped through Iraqi custody after arriving in Baghdad and disappeared.

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