Karbala/Baghdad: At least 40 people were killed and 68 injured in two bomb attacks Monday in the Shiite holy city of Karbala as large crowds gathered for a religious ceremony, witnesses and doctors said.
In the first incident, a suicide bomber killed 18 people when he blew himself up in the middle of a large group of pilgrims. Minutes later a car bomb exploded some 300 metres away from the initial blast, killing at least another 22 people.
Both explosions took place some 4 km from the centre of the city located some 118 km from the capital Baghdad.
Hundreds of thousands of Shiites are gathered in Karbala for the holiday of the Imam al-Mahdi. Some 30,000 security forces were also deployed to protect the pilgrims, the police said.
Earlier, at least four people were killed and 16 injured Monday in a suicide bombing near the Baghdad office of the Al-Arabiya satellite television station.
The bomber detonated a small explosives-laden truck belonging to a local telecommunications company in the al-Harithiya area of western Baghdad where the broadcaster is located.
Besides the suicide bomber, three security personnel and a woman who worked as an office assistant at the station, were also killed in the attack.
Salam al-Zawbaei, a member of parliament from the secular Iraqiya party who lives in the neighbourhood, was also injured by the blast.
"There was a huge explosion that shook the building and caused severe damage," Hayder Dekhel, an Al-Arabiya employee in Baghdad, told reporters.
Black smoke covered the area and billowed up to the sky after the 120 kg of explosives in the car ignited when the driver slammed the vehicle into a gate. The blast created a crater three metres deep and damaged the building and other vehicles in the area.
"The car was searched at one checkpoint but was allowed to move ahead," Qassem Atta, an official from the ministry, told Al-Arabiya TV. Atta said he had prior information that a branch of the Al Qaeda terrorist network had been planning to attack the television station.
The bomber`s ID card was found at the blast site, showing that he was 28 years old, but police said that it might be a fake.
The vehicle used in the attack belonged to a local telecommunications company that is building a mobile tower in the neighbourhood.
According to witnesses, the small truck was initially searched when it passed in the early morning through a checkpoint, located about 100 metres away from the broadcaster`s offices. The vehicle then left the zone but returned some hours later and was not thoroughly checked the second time it entered the sensitive area.
The driver told security officers that he had come back carrying "equipment for the tower", witnesses said.
Houses of several high ranking officials are located in the area of the attack. Also in the vicinity is the office of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, the head of Iraqiya, the parliamentary bloc which won the most seats in the March 7 elections.
Iraqi security forces sealed off the blast area, and movement in the city is slower than usual, residents reported.
In June, the Interior Ministry demanded the offices of the broadcaster in Baghdad be closed after receiving information that armed groups were preparing to attack Al-Arabiya.
The Saudi-owned channel and its staff had previously been targeted by insurgents and faced pressure from the government over its coverage of events in the country.
In 2008, Baghdad bureau chief Jawad Hattab escaped a car bomb attack after an explosive device was planted in his vehicle. In February 2006, Al-Arabiya correspondent Atwar Bahjat and two of her colleagues were kidnapped and killed north of Baghdad.
The pan-Arab channel was ordered to stop broadcasting from Baghdad for a month in September 2006 after the government accused it of inciting sectarianism and promoting violence.
Since the elections earlier this year resulted in an ongoing political stalemate in Iraq, the legislative body has only met once and a government has yet to be formed. The second session of the current Parliament is due to convene Tuesday.