Militants carried out a series of suicide attacks on Friday against Shiite mosques in northeastern Iraq killing at least 22 worshippers, including a senior police officer, officials said.
In the town of Balad Ruz, a suicide car bomber attacked the al-Zahraa mosque as worshippers were leaving after the Friday sermon, a police officer said.
A second suicide bomber on foot then attacked the crowds gathered in the aftermath. The twin attacks killed at least 18 and injured at least 41 people.
Among the dead were the leader of the town’s police commandos, Col. Adnan Mohammed al-Timimi, and two policemen, the official added. Balad Ruz is located about 70 kilometers northeast of Baghdad.
A third suicide bomber drove his car into worshippers as they were leaving the Imam Hussein Shiite mosque in the town of Kanaan, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northeast of the capital, the police officer added. Four people were killed and at least 18 wounded.
Two medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The predominantly Shiite towns are located in Iraq’s religiously-mixed province of Diyala, which has witnessed major clashes between government forces and Sunni insurgents in recent months.
The attacks came ahead of next week’s major Shiite event commemorating the death anniversary of revered 8th century saint Imam Mousa al-Kazim, when thousands of pilgrims march to his shrine in northern Baghdad.
No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of Islamic State extremist group. It considers Shiites heretics and has captured large chunks of territory in western and northern Iraq, plunging the country into its worst crisis since US troops left at the end of 2011.
The Islamic State group and other Sunni extremists carry out near-daily attacks targeting Iraq’s security forces and the country’s Shiite majority.