Saturday, June 16, 2007

Retaliatory strike razes Sunni Arab mosque

Retaliatory strike razes Sunni Arab mosque
By Alissa J. Rubin
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times
Published June 16, 2007

BAGHDAD -- A powerful explosion reduced a large Sunni Arab mosque to rubble near the southern city of Basra on Friday morning, in apparent retaliation for the bombing Wednesday of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Although there had been scattered reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques in the hours after the Samarra shrine's minarets were demolished Wednesday, calls for restraint by political and religious figures, as well as strict security measures, appeared to halt broader violence.

However, there were fears that violence could erupt once curfews were lifted in Baghdad and other areas over the weekend and that, like last year, the cycle of reprisal would unwind over weeks and months. "We won't see so much right away," said an official in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "It will come later."

The explosion at the Talha Bin al-Zubair mosque, about 10 miles south of Basra, occurred at dawn, according to residents. Talha Bin al-Zubair was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, and the mosque was popular among local Sunni Arabs and pilgrims but had been visited less in recent years because of the security troubles.

"We heard two big explosions at dawn," said Shaeema Fadel, who is from Zubair, the neighborhood of the mosque. "I hold terror cells responsible because they want to divide us."

Accounts varied of how the bombers managed to enter the mosque. At about 1,200 square yards, the building would be difficult to destroy without large explosive charges.

"Photographers and cameramen entered the mosque asking to take photographs, and they put bombs inside it," said Gen. Ali Hamadi, a security official in Basra. However, local residents said they saw uniformed men enter the mosque just before the blast.

Al-Maliki condemned the attack, ordering a curfew in the area. A curfew in Baghdad that began Wednesday was extended until Sunday morning.


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