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Suicide bombing hits Shiite pilgrims at major ritual in Iraq, 53 killed


09:38, January 15, 2012

BAGHDAD, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Up to 53 people were killed and some 137 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack targeting Shiite pilgrims in Iraq's southern city of Basra on Saturday as hundreds of thousands of Shiites converge on the holy city of Karbala.

The attack occurred at about 9:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police checkpoint among a crowd of Shiite pilgrims marching to a shrine in the town of al-Zubair, southwest of the oil hub city of Basra, some 550 km south of Baghdad, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Iraqi security forces sealed off the scene as ambulances and civilian cars evacuated the victims to nearby hospitals and medical centers, the source added.

Earlier, the source said that 50 pilgrims were killed and some 100 others, including women and children, were wounded by the blast.

Ali al-Maliki, the head of the security committee in Basra's provincial council, told local media that the suicide bomber was wearing an explosive vest under his black coat and started to give food to the pilgrims to attract them close to his place before blowing himself up.

This is the latest in a series of attacks that targeted Shiite pilgrims during the past two weeks leading to the climax day of the Arbaeen ritual, while hundreds of thousands of people march from different Iraqi cities toward the holy Shiite city of Karbala, some 110 km south of Baghdad, to commemorate the end of 40 days of mourning for Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammad's grandson who was killed in the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D.

Iraqi authorities intensified security measures all over the country. In Karbala alone, more than 30,000 Iraqi police and soldiers have been deployed around and inside the city to protect the pilgrims in the first such commemoration since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq last month.

According to official figures, up to a total of 16 million pilgrims have passed through Karbala city during the past two weeks, the state-run television of Iraqia reported.

Among them were some 500,000 Shiite pilgrims from 32 Arab and other countries to mark the Arbaeen ritual, the official channel said.

Insurgents frequently attack Shiite pilgrims who perform communal rituals in Iraq, in an attempt to provoke sectarian strife in the violence-shattered country.

Iraqi cities have been plagued by several attacks, including suicide bombings, since the U.S. troops pulled out of the country earlier last month.


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