Al Askari Mosque bombed in Samarra, Iraq

Friday, February 24, 2006

Explosions at the Al Askari Mosque in the Iraqi city of Samarra at 6:55 a.m. local time (0355 UTC) February 22 ripped through the mosque, destroying the northern wall which shattered the golden dome.

No injuries were reported from the blast, but sectarian violence has broken out in the region after the attack on the Shi'a holy site.

The attack

The Interior Ministry reported that four bombers entered the mosque, one in the uniform of Iraqi Security Forces. Two bombs were planted, which went off in the morning. The blasts damaged the northern wall and caused the dome to collapse.

Police originally feared there may be victims buried in the rubble.

The mosque is one of the most holy sites of Shi'a Islam as it holds the remains of Ali al-Hadi and his son Hassan al-Askar, the 10th and 11th Shi'a imams. The grandson of al-Hadi was the 12th imam, the "hidden imam" Muhammad al-Mahdi whose shrine stood adjacent to the Mosque.

Violence after

Within hours of the blasts, Sunni mosques had been attacked or set afire. An association of Sunni clerics reported that ten imams had been killed, and that 15 were kidnapped by Shi'a protesters.

Overnight gunmen in police uniforms seized 11 Sunni men from a prison in Basra and killed them.

Thursday's violence escalated after the protests on Wednesday. In the single deadliest incident, 47 people were killed at a roadblock in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, as they were returning from a protest. In Baquba, at least 16 were killed in a suicide bomb attack in a crowded market.

Atwar Bahjat, correspondent for the al-Arabiya network, and two local journalists were kidnapped and killed leaving Samarra.

CBC reports as many as 168 mosques have been targeted, both Sunni and counter-counter attacks on Shi'a.

Response of the Shi'a religious leadership

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called on Shiites to take to the streets, but peacefully. "We invite the faithful to protest and express their condemnations, on the violation of their sanctities, by peaceful means," says the online message from his office. "We stress upon everyone going through the shock of this atrocious crime not to be drawn into what the enemies want them to be drawn into, which is sectarian discord"

"If its security institutions are unable to provide the necessary security, the faithful are able to do that by the will and blessings of God," the Grand Ayatollah said in a separate, written, statement, suggesting the armed Shi'a militias may be deployed to protect other holy sites if the government and the U.S. troops are deemed incapable of doing so.

Response from the Iraq government

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani appeals for calm to avoid a "devastating civil war". Reports in televised news conferences indicate that initial investigations point to "infiltration" of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Thursday declared a day of national mourning.

"The main aim of these terrorist groups is to drag Iraq into a civil war," Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told al-Arabiye television.

"Anti-democratic forces have tried everything to push the country into a civil war and sectarian violence," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said today in a phone interview with Bloomberg. "This is the biggest challenge we as Iraqis face, and efforts are under way to prevent it."

World wide response

Ashraf Qazi, the United Nation's top envoy to the region, has said he will ask the country's political and religious leaders to hold a dialogue moderated by the U.N.


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