HILLA, Iraq: A suicide bomber driving a minibus packed with explosives killed at least 45 people and wounded 157 on Sunday in the southern Iraqi city of Hilla, police and medical sources said.
The attacker approached a main checkpoint at a northern entrance to the largely Shiite Muslim city and detonated the minibus, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.
At least 50 cars were set ablaze with passengers trapped inside and part of the checkpoint complex was destroyed, the officer said.
Sunni Islamist insurgents linked to al Qaeda have been regaining ground in Iraq over the past year, particularly in the western province of Anbar bordering Syria.
No one claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, but the deputy chairman of Hilla provincial council, Aqeel al-Rubaie, accused al Qaeda of being behind the bombing.
Rubaie said the local government had received tips that Al-Qaeda-affiliates hiding in farmland north of Hilla were plotting a strike.
He said the violence was a spillover from fighting in neighboring Anbar, where the Shiite-led government has been battling the Al-Qaeda faction the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) around the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
“We have evidence that al Qaeda terrorists are standing behind the suicide attack today and since the breakout of fighting in Anbar, al Qaeda has stepped up attacks in Hilla,” Rubaie told Reuters.
“We can’t separate today’s attack from Anbar’s fight.”
The scene of the attack was strewn with debris from the checkpoint, and the shells of burnt out cars littered the road.