BAGHDAD – At least 121 people died in a bomb attack on a busy shopping street in the Iraqi capital in the early hours of Sunday morning, as Islamic State militants target civilians amid losses on the battlefield.
At least 212 people injured in the bombing and the ensuing fire in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood, according to a senior official from Iraq’s Health Ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. The death toll is expected to climb further, as many suffering from burn injuries are in critical condition, he said.
The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted Shiite Muslims.
The suicide car bomb struck as families were out on the streets after breaking their fast during one of the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and crowds had gathered in coffee shops to watch the semi-finals of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. The blast set off a huge blaze that engulfed two small shopping centers, leaving those inside trapped on the roof and screaming for help as firefighters attempted to rescue them.
The attack comes a week after the Iraqi government declared that it had expelled Islamic State militants from their stronghold of Fallujah, 45 miles west of the capital. The militants have lost about half the territory they once controlled in the country and have called for attacks during Ramadan.
The Baghdad bombing follows attacks in Turkey and Bangladesh over the past week that many have linked to the Islamic State. The shopping district in Karrada has been targeted by the group multiple times in the past.
At least half of those killed in the attack on Sunday died in the fire that followed the blast, the health official said. More than 80 percent of those killed were under the age of 30, he said, with the area a popular gathering place for young people.
About 25 succumbed to their injures in the Baghdad Medical City hospital, according to another health official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. At least 15 children were killed, the Associated Press reported.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is from the area, visited the bomb site on Sunday morning, and his convoy was attacked by an angry crowd. “Thief!” people shouted at his motorcade, throwing stones, bottles and projectiles, according to footage posted online.
“Break the windshield, don’t let him go!” one person yelled. Abadi has faced pressure from street protests in recent months as patience frays over widespread corruption, lack of services and growing insecurity. The recent successful Fallujah offensive had given him some political breathing space, but there are still widespread calls for change.
In a statement, he described the attack as a “desperate attempt” by the militants.
Residents said the street had been closed off by police earlier in the evening because of information about a potential attack, before being reopened about an hour later. Coffee shops were packed with people gathered to watch Italy play Germany in the Euro 2016 tournament, residents said.
Gaith Ali, 26, whose apartment windows were blown out in the explosion, said the fire spread rapidly, trapping people inside the Hadi shopping center, which has a large coffee shop on its top floor. It spread across the street to another small mall.
“The street was full of life last night, and now the smell of death is all over the place,” he said.
Many of the bodies recovered were too disfigured to be identified, he said.
The website of the Interior Ministry was hacked in the aftermath of the attack. The hackers posted a picture of a bloodied baby and a wand-style bomb detector that has been proven to be fake but is still widely used at checkpoints in Iraq. “I don’t know how you sleep at night,” the hacked website read.
A second explosion struck in eastern Baghdad shortly after the Karrada bombing, but there were conflicting reports on whether it was a bombing. Local media said five people were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated. The Interior Ministry said it was an accident caused by an exploding air-conditioning unit.