ISIS claims responsibility for attack on Baghdad gas plant

Updated 3:47 PM EDT, Sun May 15, 2016
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ISIS has claimed responsibility for an assault on a Baghdad gas plant Sunday, the latest in a series of deadly attacks committed by the Sunni terror group that have claimed more than 100 lives in recent days.

Baghdad Governor Ali al-Tamimi said 10 people, including seven police officers and three guards, were killed during the assault on the facility in the Taji area, north of Iraq’s capital, at 5 a.m. local time Sunday.

Police officials said the attack began with a suicide car bomb at the entrance of the plant, then a second suicide bomber detonated an explosive inside the facility.

Six ISIS militants then tried to storm inside, but security forces were able to repel them, police said. Two military helicopters were deployed from Taji military base to fight the militants, police said.

The attack left 24 people injured and three gas storage tanks burning at the plant, which produces cooking gas canisters.

In a statement on his official Facebook page, al-Tamimi slammed security arrangements at the plant, saying the facility was inadequately protected.

He said the officers charged with guarding the plant had only light weapons compared to the ISIS attackers, and that an elite response team arrived at the incident hours after the attack began.

The attack would not affect production at the plant, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said Sunday.

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Days of violence

Another car bombing struck south of Baghad on Sunday, killing at least two people in the town of Latifiya, Iraqi security officials said. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for that blast, which exploded near shops and wounded at least 11 people.

The majority Sunni town Latifiya was previously known as the “Triangle of Death” because it was an al Qaeda stronghold and a lair for criminals during the height of Iraq’s insurgency.

Experts have blamed the violence in part on a security vacuum they say has opened once again in Iraq as the country faces renewed political turmoil.

Terrorists have taken advantage of this vacuum to launch a fresh wave of deadly attacks, experts said.

On Saturday, Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal fighters killed 10 ISIS militants in Amiriyat al-Falluja in Anbar province.

On Friday, three ISIS militants gunned down people in a coffee shop in Balad, a Shiite-majority city 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad, killing at least 13 at the scene before blowing themselves up during a gun battle with police, killing seven officers.

On Thursday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a police station in western Baghdad, killing three police officers and injuring 10 others, authorities said.

And on Wednesday, more than 90 people were killed in suicide bombings in one of the bloodiest days in Baghdad this year.

First a suicide car bombing in the largely Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City killed 64 people. Following that, another attack in the Shiite neighborhood of al-Kadhimiya killed 17 and a suicide car bomber struck a checkpoint manned by Shiites in the Sunni neighborhood of al-Jamia, killing 12.

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’State of emergency’ in Raqqa

Since declaring its so-called Islamic caliphate over stretches of Iraq and Syria in June 2014, the group has come under attack on multiple fronts – by Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish forces as well as various international actors – losing significant territory in the process.

Two major Iraqi cities, Tikrit and Ramadi, have been reclaimed from the group as well as a number of significant towns. Iraq’s government has been planning a major offensive to recapture the northern city of Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.

Analysts say the loss of land has prompted the terror group to change its tactics, activating sleeper cells and striking soft targets.

“ISIS has receded somewhat militarily; they don’t have a … standing army to hold territory,” political risk analyst Kirk Sowell told CNN last week. “But what they’re good at, unfortunately, is these terrorist attacks against soft targets.”

“[Wednesday] was worse than most, but in the last few months there’s been this increased focus on terrorist attacks going back to pre-2014 tactics,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees, told CNN Thursday that the strikes on Shia targets were part of the group’s strategy to “foment a sectarian war in Iraq between Sunnis and Shia.”

On Friday, U.S. military officials revealed that ISIS had declared a state of emergency in its self-declared capital, Raqqa, apparently expecting that the city was about to come under siege.

“We know this enemy feels threatened, as they should,” Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters.

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CNN’s Josh Berlinger, Jomana Karadsheh, Catherine E. Shoichet and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report