BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A group linked to al Qaeda said it was behind suicide attacks on an Iraqi police intelligence headquarters and shopping mall in the northern city of Kirkuk, the SITE monitoring group said on Thursday, citing a communique.
Gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the two sites in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, late on Wednesday. They killed 11 people and wounded 70, police and medical sources said.
Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed the six-man suicide raid, according to a statement circulated on jihadi forums and social media, SITE said.
Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to al Qaeda have regularly used such attacks on targets linked to Iraq’s Shi‘ite-led government and security services since the start of 2013.
ISIL operates on both sides of the porous Iraqi-Syrian border. In Syria ISIL is fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and has taken advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held areas to assert itself over more moderate elements of the armed opposition.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday that ISIL had executed an Iraqi cameraman in a rebel-held part of northern Syria.
Violence in Iraq has intensified alongside the conflict in Syria and is expected to escalate further before a parliamentary election in April next year.
Iraqi police said two suicide bombers armed with sniper rifles entered the shopping complex in Kirkuk late on Wednesday, took control of it and captured around 15 shoppers as hostages.
After a gun battle, one suicide bomber blew himself up and the other was shot dead by Kurdish security forces who took over the operation from local police. One hostage was wounded, police said.
“I was inside my home when there was a big explosion, our house was shaking and the windows shattered,” said a man living next to the mall who gave his name as Abu Ahmed.
He saw several attackers carrying weapons heading towards the center. “Dozens of women, men and children went out and some of them came to my house,” he said, adding he heard a gun battle which continued into the night.
Iraqi state television showed smoke billowing from the building after security forces detonated additional bombs the attackers had left inside the complex.
Earlier on Wednesday suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a nearby police intelligence headquarters, killing at least six people and wounding dozens more.
Areas around Kirkuk are strongholds of al Qaeda, according to security officials, in a region which both the central government and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan claim as theirs, making a coordinated police response difficult.
On Tuesday, 12 people were killed in two similar attacks in northern Iraq targeting a government complex and a police building.
Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Writing by Sylvia Westall; editing by Keiron Henderson