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Three blasts kill at least 17 in Baghdad
Updated: 2005-02-18 21:03

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three explosions aimed at worshippers celebrating a Shiite religious festival killed at least 17 and injured dozens on Friday, as insurgents set off explosions during prayers outside two Shiite mosques and attacked a convoy of worshippers as they passed a police station, officials said.

The attacks, one day before Ashoura, the holiest day of the year for Shiites, recalled deadly explosions a year ago that killed 181 during the religious festival.

Officials had conflicting casualty figures from the three blasts Friday, though they said at least 17 and as many as 33 were killed.

The first blast occurred in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood near the al-Khadimain mosque, Iraqi National Guard 1st Lt. Ahmad Ali said. The mosque's imam, he said, was making appeals for blood donations.

That explosion, Ahmad said, was apparently the work of a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives. He said about 30 people were killed, though a hospital doctor, Ahmed Zaher, said 14 dead and 42 injured had been brought in from the blast. A police official, Capt. Falah al-Mahdawi, said 15 people were killed and 20 were injured.

Zaher said cars and pickup trucks were arriving at Baghdad's al Yarmuk hospital with more of the injured. Shocked relatives were rushing through the hospital looking for relatives, he said.

"As we went inside (the mosque) there were some guys searching people and as I walked in I heard a huge explosion behind me, then I discovered that someone detonated himself," said Ali al Aboudi, 37 , who had an arm and a leg broken in the blast.

A second blast occurred outside the Al Bayaa mosque in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood of western Baghdad, Lt. Col. Jalal Sabry of the local police station said. He said the injured were also taken to al Yarmuk, where a doctor said at least one person was killed and four were injured.

"I saw this terrorist and I saw him as he was heading toward the mosque. He was trying to get two grenades from his pocket. At that time I opened fire on him and immediately he exploded," said Amer Mayah, 24, one of the security guards at the mosque.

In the third attack, a suicide bomber blew himself near a religious procession in the Shiite Ash Shulah district northwest of the city center, said police 1st Lt. Waed Hussein. He said two people were killed and five injured in the explosion.

All three attacks came as the faithful were preparing to observe the holy day of Ashoura on Saturday.

Shiites are marking the Islamic holy month of Muharram, and Ashoura, the 10th day of Muharram, is the holiest day of the year for them. The day marks the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in a seventh century battle for leadership of the Islamic world.

Last year during Ashoura, twin blasts ripped through crowds of worshippers at Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and Karbala, killing at least 181 people.

The deadly explosions came as Iraq (news - web sites) partially sealed its land borders as part of stepped up security on the eve of Ashoura. Iraq's fledgling government had hoped to avert the bloodshed that marred Ashoura last year.

Land borders were partially closed from Friday to Tuesday, said Thaer al-Naqeeb, a prime ministry spokesman. Exceptions include trucks carrying food or oil, while Baghdad's international airport will remain open for flights, al-Naqeeb and aviation industry officials said.

As the clampdown went into effect there were reports that two Indonesian journalists were missing in the turbulent Iraqi city of Ramadi. The female reporter and male cameraman went missing Tuesday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, but the Indonesian Foreign Ministry stopped short of saying they'd been abducted.

Ramadi has been a center of insurgent activity in Iraq and the scene of frequent clashes between U.S. forces, their Iraqi allies and militants.

In Karbala, where Ashoura celebrations will be centered south of Baghdad, police found the bodies of two police officers, both the sons of the chief of police of Najaf, another southern Shiite city, said Karbala police spokesman Rahman Mushawi. It was not clear who killed the two men.

Their father, Ghalib al-Jazaeni, said they had been kidnapped overnight as they drove from Najaf to Karbala for the celebrations. Their hands were bound and they had been shot many times in the head.

In an unrelated incident, police said they arrested three men who were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Karbala during the memorial.

Police in Baghdad had also intensified already tight security, setting up extra checkpoints around the city. That did not prevent gunmen from kidnapping Sabir Sharaf Al-Qaisym, a member of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, from outside his house late Thursday in western Baghdad's Ummal neighborhood, police Captain Talib Thamir said.

In northern Iraq, brief clashes broke out between U.S. troops and gunmen in Tal Afar, leaving one woman dead and six others wounded, hospital officials said on condition of anonymity.

Also in northern Iraq, assailants fired six mortar rounds at the governor's office in Mosul. The shells exploded nearby. There was no immediate word on casualties.

In Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, also north of the capital, coalition forces said two insurgents were killed and another was wounded trying to plant a roadside bomb. The injured man was arrested and taken to a military hospital.

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