/ 22 February 2010

Gunmen slaughter Iraqi families, behead victims

Gunmen shot dead two Iraqi families, mostly children, and beheaded some of the 11 victims on Monday as a spate of brutal attacks hit the country less than two weeks before elections.

The family members were killed in their homes in and around Baghdad, while another 11 people died in violence across Iraq, including three in a suicide car bombing and a police commando who was shot dead by a sniper.

The worst incident occurred in Al-Wehdah, a predominantly Shiite Muslim town in an ethnically mixed area about 20 km southeast of Baghdad.

Eight members of the same family, including six children younger than 12, were shot dead and several were beheaded.

“A terrorist group carried out at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) a brutal crime against a family in Al-Wehdah,” the Baghdad Operations Command said in a statement.

“This gang killed eight members of this family using silencer pistols. The criminals have beheaded some of them.”

Beheadings have been the trademark of Sunni insurgents in Iraq, particularly Al-Qaeda militants in the violence that flared after the 2003 US-led invasion, although the motive for the attack was unclear.

Baghdad police said they later apprehended four people carrying silencers in connection with the murders, after receiving a tip-off.

A second family, comprising a mother and her two daughters, was shot dead in their home in the mostly Shiite north Baghdad district of al-Hurriyah, a police official said on condition of anonymity.

“Both my sisters arrived yesterday to visit my mother. They killed them all,” said Salam al-Saadi, a 28-year-old hospital worker, at the scene of the murders, where blood from the victims was spattered on the floor and the walls.

Neighbours in the area said masked gunmen entered the house around 10:00 pm (1900 GMT Sunday), and a commotion broke out soon after.

The execution-style killings occurred ahead of parliamentary elections on March 7, the second legislative polls since dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted after the invasion.

Meanwhile, in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, a suicide car bomb struck an interior ministry detention centre, killing a man, his six-year-old son and a policeman, said a police officer and a doctor at the city’s hospital.

The attack left four other people wounded, including two policemen.

Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar province and was a key insurgent base following the invasion, but violence has dropped as local Sunni tribes have since 2006 sided with the US military.

The city, however, has seen a spate of attacks in recent months, including three bombings of the provincial governor’s offices since October.

Violence was also seen in the centre of Baghdad, when a police commando was shot dead by a sniper in Saadoun street while he was checking a car for explosives, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

A higher education ministry official and university professor Thamer Kamil was also gunned down while he was in the east of the capital, a policeman said.

Five civilians were earlier wounded when several mortars hit Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which is home to several foreign embassies and government departments, an interior ministry official said.

Further north, in the restive northern city of Mosul two Iraqi soldiers and two police were killed when their respective checkpoints came under fire from unidentified gunmen on Monday morning, police officials said.

The nationwide trail of bloodshed was completed when two people were killed in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, also north of Baghdad, according to security officials.

Police Lieutenant Kamaran Ali Hassan was gunned down in front of his home in the east of the city as he was getting out of his car. Mohammed Khalaf Ahmed, a businessman, was shot dead by gunmen on a road south of the city. — AFP