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Iraq Transition

Car bomb rips through central Baghdad, kills 21

Story Highlights

• NEW: House linked to group opposing al Qaeda attacked
Authorities believe Iraqi civilians were targeted with car bomb
• Police still looking for group of gunmen, hostages after bus hijacking
• Female student killed by sniper at Mustansiriya University
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A car bomb detonated Monday afternoon in a busy commercial district in central Baghdad, killing 21 civilians and wounding 66, an Interior Ministry official said.

The bomb, in a parked car, exploded shortly after 2 p.m. (6 a.m. ET) and the force of the blast could be felt in a wide surrounding area, police said.

Video of the aftermath showed debris littering the streets near the blast site, where a plume of black smoke climbed into the sky. Iraqi firemen in yellow helmets doused the flames with a hose, as Iraqi men and boys crowded the streets. (Watch firefighters douse the smoldering rubble left in the bomb's wake Video)

The blast went off near a Sunni mosque that was damaged by the attack, but police believe civilians on the street were the target. Video showed damage to the mosque's tower.

A nearby Shiite mosque was unscathed.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki released a statement condemning "the news of targeting another symbol of Iraqi religious symbols by the hands of the terrorists groups."

"The targeting of Al-Qadria shrine through this criminal act comes as evidence of the absence of any religious or moral motive for those terrorists that would prevent them from conducting such a savage crime," al-Maliki's statement said.

"We assure that the criminals will not escape from justice."

The damaged mosque is considered one of the holiest shrines for many Sunni Muslims and houses the tomb of Abdul Qader al-Jelani, a 12th century Sufi saint.

Home linked to al Qaeda opponents attacked

Outside Baghdad in Salaheddin province, gunmen attacked the home of Sheikh Khalil Ibrahim Salem al-Jubouri, brother of Sheikh Hamad al-Jubouri, who is the head of the newly founded Salaheddin Awakening Council, according to an official with the four-day-old group.

The official said that the gunmen battled the Baiji residence's guards for an hour before storming the home and bombing it. Then they set fire to the house next door and to Salem al-Jubouri's car before fleeing with four of his sons.

The council is the latest alliance of Sunni tribes in Sunni provinces aligning against al Qaeda.

Police are still looking for a group of gunmen who hijacked two minibuses filled with passengers in central Baghdad's Bab al-Muadham neighborhood and took them hostage, the ministry official said.

It is the same area where another bus was taken a day earlier.

U.S. forces and Iraqi police thought they tracked the gunmen to an abandoned building where a gunbattle erupted, but neither the passengers nor the gunmen turned out to be inside the building in the Fadhil section of northern Baghdad.

Three police were killed and four were wounded in the clash, the official said.

It is unclear how many hostages were seized, but the buses normally hold about 10 passengers each.

Also in Bab al-Muadham, a roadside bomb struck a parked car, killing at least two civilian bystanders and wounding 11, the official said.

A mortar round hit a fuel station in central Baghdad's Karrada district, killing four civilians and wounding 15, the official said.

Earlier in the day, a female student at al-Mustansiriya University was shot dead by a sniper, police said. The university has been the target of a number of violent attacks, including a suicide attack in February that killed 40 people and a pair of near simultaneous bombings last January that killed at least 70 people.

Many of the dead and wounded were faculty and students.

Meanwhile, 12 more bodies showing signs of torture were found Monday dumped in a ditch south of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said. The victims had been shot to death.

That brings to 643 the total number of bodies found this month in a similar fashion scattered across the Iraqi capital, reflecting a recent rise in sectarian killings.

After the Iraqi-led Baghdad security crackdown began in February, U.S. military officials pointed to a dip in the sectarian killings as a sign of early success. But they recently said there had been a slight increase in this style of attack.

The number of bodies found in Baghdad alone this month has surpassed the 585 victims of sectarian violence for the entire country in April, according to data collected by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

Other developments

  • Reducing U.S. troops in Iraq is one of many options that is being discussed ahead of an assessment of the U.S. military strategy in Iraq, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace said on CNN's "American Morning" on Monday. But Pace said media reports are portraying the issue as "a little more definitive than it really is."
  • U.S. forces freed 42 Iraqi citizens who were kidnapped, held by al Qaeda in Iraq for as long as four months and possibly tortured, a U.S. military spokesman said Sunday. Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said he believed the kidnappings were part of al Qaeda's "fear and intimidation" campaign against Iraqi civilians.
  • Iraqi and coalition forces on Sunday seized a "suspected terrorist" with links to Iran's weapons and training network during a raid in Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The arrest in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood marked the third target captured in as many days.
  • CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Yousif Bassil contributed to this report.


    • Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
    • Interactive: Sectarian divide


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