The BBC is reporting on a suicide bomb attack near Karbala, located 60 miles south of Baghdad, for which the Islamic State is said to have claimed responsibility.
“Nearly 80” Shia pilgrims are reported to have perished in the attack at a roadside stop for travelers at Hillah that included a gas station and restaurant. Iraqi security spokesperson Falah al-Radi stated that the number of fatalities is expected to rise.
The suicide bomb was said to have been delivered in a parked truck, resulting in an explosion that “completely destroyed” the restaurant and fuel station.
ISIS claimed the death toll from the attack was higher with 80 fatalities. Later reports show ISIS claiming as many as 200.
Victims of the blast are said to include both Bahrainian and Iranian nationals who were participating in the Arbaeen Pilgrimage in Karbala.
The Arbaeen pilgrimage takes place after a 40-day “mourning period” following Ashura, another significant Day of Remembrance in Islam. The Independent reports that 20 million Shia Muslims take part, and the march remembers the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.
“His martyrdom is considered a defining event in the Sunni-Shia schism,” the BBC writes of Imam Hussein.
The Times Colonist confirms the BBC reports of the suicide bombing near Hillah, reporting a death toll of 21. The newspaper and the British network each describe ISIS as “Sunni extremists.”
The Arbaeen religious ritual has been a target of ISIS over the past week, with members of the group being caught attempting to infiltrate Karbala. Five out of six suicide bombers were reported to have been stopped before being able to carry out attacks, with one successfully detonating explosives, taking his own life and the lives of eight civilian Iraqis.
Twenty-four thousand Iraqi troops were said to have been brought in during the Arbaeen march out of concern about the possibility of just such an incident. The battle in Mosul is cited as being a potential mitigating factor in the decision by ISIS to target the Shia ceremony.
The Hillah suicide bombing comes as Iraqi and Peshmerga military forces continue in the sixth week of operations in their battle to retake control of Mosul from ISIS. The troops are supported by U.S. and coalition air bombing campaigns.
Mosul has been controlled by the Islamic State since mid-2014.
Iraqi troops are said to have recaptured the “Amn, Qahira and Green Apartments” sections of the “densely populated” Zohour district. The neighborhoods are described as being located on the eastern shore of the Tigris River, said to be the site of the majority of fighting between the terror group and U.S.-backed local forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appeared at a recently recaptured aviation facility west of Mosul today. The landing strip was described as being retaken by “state-sanctioned Shiite militiamen” in recent operations.
The National Post has previously written with regard to the relationship between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
“Those pushing for selecting successors as caliph of the Islamic State and as the religious authority only from among the family of Muhammad became known as the Shia, from the Arabic for ‘the followers of Ali,’ a reference to Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib. Those pushing for a selective process based on seeking the most qualified from the wider tribal context became known as the Sunni, from the Arabic for ‘people of the tradition.'”
The Inquisitr has previously reported on the actions of some Iraqi Shia militia against Sunnis, described as “reprisals,” after areas occupied by Islamic State fighters had been cleared in recent years.
[Featured Image by Wathiq Khuzaie /Getty Images]