A CAR bomb tore through a cafe packed with young men watching a football match yesterday in Baghdad, killing at least 16 people, officials said.
It was the first major attack since US commandos killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck a Shi’ite enclave in a mainly Sunni neighbourhood, but it bore the hallmarks of the terror network’s chapter in Iraq. Al-Qaeda operatives have vowed revenge for bin Laden’s death.
Iraqi security officials said on Monday that they were increasing security amid fears that insurgents would try to strike immediately following bin Laden’s death as a way to show they are still a potent force.
Most of the dead and wounded were young people watching a football match, said police and hospital officials. A vendor selling food near the cafe also was among the 16 killed. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release the information, said 37 people also were wounded.
The attack occurred in a Shi’ite enclave in the former insurgent stronghold of Dora, an area in southwestern Baghdad that saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq conflict.
Many Iraqis were quick to blame the terror network.
“This is the cowardly reaction of al-Qaeda after the killing of the big terrorist bin Laden. They intend to do this against such gatherings in Shi’ite areas,” Jasim Hashim, a 20-year-old student who lives about 200 metres from where the bomb went off in front of a popular cafe.
He said his parents had refused to let him go out, fearing just such an attack after bin Laden’s capture, but one of his close friends was at the cafe and killed in the attack.
Violence in Iraq has decreased dramatically since the height of the insurgency when groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq carried out car bombs, kidnappings and shootings daily. But the terror groups still have the ability to wage violent attacks as the US prepares to withdraw all its forces by the end of this year.
Earlier on Tuesday, a police colonel in northern Iraq was killed by a roadside bomb, police and medical officials said. Colleagues of Eid al-Namis said he was known in the Namroud area, about 35 kilometres south of the northern city of Mosul, for his work in hunting al-Qaeda operatives there.
According to a Mosul police officer, al-Namis had already survived at least three assassination attempts before he was killed on Tuesday morning when the bomb hit his convoy. The police and medical officials also declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media.