Islamic State truck bomb kills more than 80 people, mostly Iranian pilgrims

A truck bomb ripped through a petrol station where buses packed with Shia pilgrims returning from the Arbaeen commemoration in the Iraqi city of Karbala were parked, killing 80 people.

world Updated: Nov 25, 2016 01:47 IST
Islamic State,suicide truck bomb attack,Iranian pilgrims
A flag bearing a portrait of Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussein, flutters above an Iraqi Special Forces vehicle patrolling a northeastern district of the city of Mosul on November 24, 2016. (AFP)

The Islamic State on Thursday claimed a suicide truck bomb attack that killed more than 80 people, mostly Iranian Shia pilgrims, at a petrol station where buses returning from the Arbaeen commemoration in the Iraqi city of Karbala were parked.

The blast occurred in Hilla city, 100 km south of the capital Baghdad and around 80 km from Karbala. The petrol station was almost completely destroyed and scores of cars were burned.

The IS claimed responsibility for the attack in an online statement. The hardline Sunni group considers all Shias to be apostates.

The pilgrims were en route to Iran from the holy Shia city of Karbala, where they had commemorated Arbaeen, the 40th day of mourning for the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in the 7th century AD.

Iranian nationals are the largest contingent of foreigners at the Arbaeen pilgrimage that ended on Monday.

The petrol station on the main motorway between Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra has a restaurant in its premises that is popular with travellers. Five buses with pilgrims were torched by the blast from the explosives-laden truck, a police official said.

“Those buses were loaded with Iranians, Bahrainis and Iraqis,” a police intelligence source told AFP.

“There were Iranians but also lots of people from Basra and Nasiriyah,” Mousa Omran told AFP, referring to another southern city.

Between 17 and 20 million people visited Karbala, home to the mausoleum of Imam Hussein, for Arbaeen, one of the world’s largest religious events. The days-long final phase of the pilgrimage sees huge numbers of pilgrims walk long distances to reach Karbala.

According to Iraqi authorities, around three million Iranians were among this year’s visitors. Many of them stay a few days longer to visit the shrine city.

Iraq’s security forces were on high alert for the pilgrimage, seen as a major potential target for the IS.

The IS has intensified attacks over the past month in areas out of its control in efforts to weaken a US-backed military offensive launched on October 17 to retake Mosul, the last major city under the group’s control in Iraq.

Around 25,000 members of the security forces were deployed last week to protect the pilgrims but some have since returned to the front lines. Thursday’s attack marred an Arbaeen commemoration that had passed with fewer attacks than in previous years.

First Published: Nov 24, 2016 20:09 IST