Real Madrid Mourns Soccer Fans Killed In Iraq Suicide Bombing

An Islamic State suicide bombing in a café in central Iraq killed at least 16 people on Friday, including a group of Real Madrid soccer fans. The Spanish government and the Real Madrid soccer club have condemned the attack, saying players will wear black arm bands in mourning for the fans.

As reported by the English language El Pais, a group of gunmen and two suicide bombers assaulted the café in Balad, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad and the attack has been claimed by the Islamic State. Reportedly besides the 16 dead, 20 other people were wounded in the attack which IS says was aimed at government-allied militia.

In their report, the news service claimed that the café is popular with young people in the city and was also the headquarters of a Real Madrid fan club. At least 12 of the victims died in the attack on the café while another four were killed in a nearby market.

According to police sources, the IS militants managed to get past three police checkpoints before arriving at their target.

The attack in Balad comes shortly after a two-day wave of bombings in Baghdad, claimed by Islamic State, that killed almost 100 people. The deadliest attack killed 63 people in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad on Wednesday.

According to Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not allowed to speak to the media, the latest attack in Balad saw three gunmen armed with machine guns open fire in the crowded café. Reportedly it was when police arrived on the scene that two of the attackers detonated their suicide vests.

It is unlikely that the Real Madrid soccer fans were the target of the attack, as IS did not mention them in its statement. Reportedly, most IS attacks are set to target pro-government militias, Iraqi security forces and areas packed with Shiite civilians.

According to The New York Times,the bombings by the Islamic State are aimed at distracting from their current battlefield losses and at undermining faith in the Shiite-led Iraqi government. Reportedly Islamic State views Iraq’s Shiite majority as apostates that deserve death. In their report they claim at least 13 people died in the attack.

While it is not immediately clear what their information is based on, statements from the Spanish government and the football club say the attack directly targeted a local fan club. Reportedly, soccer is hugely popular in Iraq, with Read Madrid and Barcelona among the most popular teams.

In their statement, the Spanish government condemned the attack “in the strongest terms possible.” However, they stated the attack happened in Samarra, around 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Balad and officials reportedly could not be reached for comment on the discrepancy.

Real Madrid said on its official website that its players will be wearing black armbands in their game at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday where a win by the team, combined with a loss or draw by Barcelona, would give the team the Spanish league title on the final round.

The team said in their statement, “The club expresses its deepest sadness and extends its condolences and sympathy to the family and friends of the victims.”

“Real Madrid extends its solidarity to the people of Iraq, who suffer the horrible injustices of extreme violence.”

The wave of attacks in Iraq have been condemned by the top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who said the government is ultimately responsible for the security breaches. The cleric accuses Iraq’s politicians of “closing their ears to their advisers.”

[Photo Real Madrid wearing black armbands at Deportivo La Coruna by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images]