Two bombs tore through worshippers gathering for prayers at a mosque in Iraq on Friday, killing 18 people, while three died in other attacks, officials said.
Militants have carried out numerous attacks on both Sunni and Shia mosques this year, raising fears of a return to the all-out sectarian conflict that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed thousands of people.
The bombs, which hit the Musab bin Omair mosque near Samarra, north of Baghdad, also wounded 21 people, police and a doctor said.
“A huge explosion happened, and everything around us was thrown in the air,” Zaid Abdulwahid, a 26-year-old who was wounded in the blasts, told AFP at the main hospital in Samarra.
Questions for Abdulwahid had to be shouted, as his hearing was damaged by the explosions.
“We never expected that the mosque would be targeted,” said Othman Ahmed, 23, another of the wounded.
He said he initially could not see anything after the blasts, but then noticed he was surrounded by dead and wounded people.
The blasts came a day after the bodies of 10 young men who had been shot dead were found in Baghdad, another reminder of the sectarian conflict, during which militants frequently carried out summary executions.
Also on Friday, mortar rounds killed a young girl west of Samarra and wounded two members of her family.
And gunmen kidnapped and killed a soldier in the northern province of Kirkuk, while a roadside bomb north of the city of Baquba killed one person and wounded three.
The United Nation's deputy special representative for Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin, expressed “extreme concern” this week about sectarian-based displacement of Sunnis and members of the small Shabak minority, and the killing of Sunnis in the country's south.
“The use of violence and intimidation against communities by illegal armed groups forcing them to flee their homes is unacceptable and a clear violation of basic human rights,” Busztin said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who heads Iraq's government, condemned the trend as he met with displaced Sunni families this week.
Subscribe to our RSS feed to stay in touch and receive all of TT updates right in your feed reader