BAGHDAD, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Three suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State killed at least 50 people in southern Iraq on Thursday and wounded more than 80, a health official and police sources said.
Wearing security force uniforms and driving stolen army vehicles, the attackers targeted a police checkpoint and two restaurants on a highway near the city of Nassiriya, using car bombs and suicide vests, the sources said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement on its Amaq news agency. The ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim militant group said it had killed “dozens of Shi‘ites”.
IS activity is usually concentrated in western and northern Iraq. Bomb attacks in the south, where the bulk of the country’s oil is produced and security forces hold a tighter grip, are relatively rare.
The head of Nassiriya’s health directorate, Jassim al-Khalidi, said the city’s hospital had received 50 bodies and the death toll could rise because some of the wounded were in critical condition.
Hospital sources said at least 10 Iranian pilgrims, who were visiting holy Shi‘ite shrines, were among the dead.
The deadliest attack was at a restaurant west of Nassiriya. “One attacker blew up his suicide vest inside the crowded restaurant while a group of other gunmen started to throw grenades and fire at diners,” said police colonel Ali Abdul Hussain.
Police sources said some police officers had died in the checkpoint attack, but the toll from that incident remained unclear.
Security sources said forces were placed on alert in most of the southern provinces, including the oil city of Basra, in case of similar attacks.
Reporting by Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Mark Trevelyan