ISIS kills at least 60 people in suicide attack south of Baghdad
BAGHDAD – Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack with an explosive-laden fuel tanker on an Iraqi police checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 70, medical and security officials said.
Responsibility was claimed in a posting on the website of the Amaq news agency, which supports the ultra-hardline Sunni group.
"A martyr's operation with a truck bomb hit the Babylon Ruins checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Hilla, killing and wounding dozens," the statement on the Amaq website said.
Hilla is the capital of Babylon province, a predominantly Shiite region with some Sunni presence.
Falah al-Radhi, the head of the security committee at Babil provincial council, said "the attack was carried against a checkpoint at the northern entrance to Hilla."
Radhi and police officers confirmed the casualty toll, the heaviest from any car bomb attack in Iraq this year.
"It's the largest bombing in the province to date," Radhi said.
"The checkpoint, the nearby police station were destroyed as well as some houses and dozens of cars."
A provincial hospital official confirmed the number of casualties. Many had suffered burn injuries.
Officials said the vehicle was a truck packed with explosives and was detonated after being pulled over by checkpoint security as it tried to enter Hilla.
Pictures posted on social media showed vast destruction around the checkpoint, where cars are usually bumper-to-bumper at that time of day, queueing to be checked by security personnel.
A doctor at Hilla hospital said at least 11 of the wounded were in a very serious condition.
The Islamic State group, which carries out nearly all such attacks, has not had fixed positions south of Baghdad since security forces and allied militias began their fightback against the jihadists in late 2014.
A March 2014 suicide bombing at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Hilla, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital, killed 50 people and wounded more than 150.
When Iraqi forces began their counter-offensive against ISIS in late 2014, securing the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, south of Baghdad, was a priority.
The jihadist group has been losing territory in Iraq for almost a year. In the most recent operation, Iraqi forces are retaking areas west of the city of Samarra.
In the cities the group retains control over, internal tension appears to be on the rise and the lack of supplies is taking its toll.
Observers have warned that, as their self-proclaimed "caliphate" shrinks towards extinction, ISIS fighters are likely to revert to their old guerrilla tactics and ramp up suicide car bomb attacks on civilian targets.