Triple blasts in Basra take 'horrific' toll

Two car explosions and roadside detonation form deadly and meticulously prepared trap that kills at least 43 people and wounds 200 more.

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BAGHDAD // The death toll from a co-ordinated triple bombing in Basra on Saturday evening more than doubled yesterday to at least 43 people and was expected to rise with almost 200 wounded, many of them seriously. Authorities in the oil-rich port city, 550km south of Baghdad, initially believed the blasts and a severe fire might have been caused by an electricity generator accident. That has now been ruled out, with security officials saying the devastation was caused deliberately in a well-planned attack involving two car bombs and a roadside bomb.

The first blast happened shortly after 7pm on Saturday at the head of Abdullah Ibn Ali street, near a popular Shiite shrine and in a busy shopping area. As civilians tried to escape, they ran towards another bomb, which was then detonated. In fleeing from that second explosion, victims inadvertently ran towards the third and final bomb, which was then triggered. Security officers say it was a deadly trap that had been meticulously prepared.

"The first bomb went off and people panicked and ran away," said Ali al Maliki, the head of Basra provincial council's security committee. "There was a stampede, which added to the casualties. Then the second and the third bombs went off with people running into them. It was designed to cause as many deaths and injuries as possible." The fire that broke out deepened the carnage, with civilians trapped between the flames and the bombs. Many of the 185 people injured are suffering from burns so severe that officials say the death toll is certain to rise.

Mr al Maliki said as many as 50 people had life-threatening wounds, in addition to the 43 confirmed dead. Casualties were taken to four hospitals in the Basra area. Mohammad Haneen, owner of a hardware shop in the market, said the scene was "horrific". "Everyone was running in terror and there were people on fire," he said. "There were bodies all over the place, covering the street, all black from burning, there were too many to count."

The fire meant that emergency medical services were unable to reach many of the injured quickly, Mr Haneen said. "The ambulances were delayed, there was no way to get the wounded out of the area so people were dying." No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Mr al Maliki said the bombers were al Qa'eda linked extremists. "The investigation is still on-going but we have leads to the specific people who did this and we expect arrests to be made soon," he said.

nlatif@thenational.ae