BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” A suicide bomber killed 30 people and wounded at least 25 on a Baghdad bus Thursday, in a bloody escalation of Iraq’s insurgency a week before elections.
The second major suicide bombing in the capital in three days, after a lull of several weeks, snapped attention back onto Iraq’s sectarian tensions after the theatre of Saddam Hussein’s trial this week.
It came a day after US President George W. Bush applauded the progress in the reconstruction of Iraqi cities like Najaf and Mosul, and as kidnappers holding four Western hostages extended a deadline to kill them by 48 hours.
Police said the crowded public bus was about to leave the Nahda bus station in central Baghdad for the southern Shiite city of Nassiriya when the attacker got onboard and detonated a vest packed with explosives.
Firefighters pulled charred bodies from the wrecked bus and loaded them into waiting ambulances as police tried to restore order around the site of the blast.
“I was standing near when the blast happened,” one man told Reuters television as he stood in front of the mangled wreckage, adding he had seen some passengers who survived with injuries.
“All the remaining people inside the bus were killed,” he said. In August the central Baghdad bus station was hit by three car bombs, one of which tore through a bus destined for Basra, also in the predominantly Shiite south.
Thursday’s bombing was the latest in a seemingly relentless insurgency led by Sunni Arabs, once dominant under Saddam, and foreign fighters against the Shiite and Kurdish-led government and its US backers.
On Tuesday, suicide bombers breached security at Baghdad’s police academy and killed 36 police officers and cadets.
Security forces are braced for a surge in violence ahead of the December 15 elections for Iraq’s first full-term government since Saddam’s fall.
Iraqis this week have been riveted by the televised trial of Saddam on charges of crimes against humanity.
The trial was adjourned for two weeks on Wednesday after three highly charged sessions this week which culminated in the former president boycotting the US-funded court after telling judges to “go to hell.”
Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammad Amin said he would use the two-week break to consider a defence motion to review the way the sometimes harrowing testimony was given.
The major attacks this week follow the abductions of Westerners after a relative lull in kidnappings.
An Iraqi militant group holding four Western Christian aid workers as hostages said on Wednesday it had extended to December 10 a deadline to kill them unless Iraqi prisoners are freed, Al Jazeera television reported.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw again called for the group calling itself the “Swords of Truth” to release the hostages â€” 74-year-old Briton Norman Kember, two Canadians and an American.
International media broadcast what they said was a new video of the hostages, showing Kember and another hostage wearing orange jumpsuits and blindfolds and with their hands shackled.
Some previous hostages have been dressed in orange jumpsuits before being executed. The outfits are associated with images of Muslims detained at a US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Muslim scholars, activists from around the world and a cleric jailed in Britain for links to Al Qaeda have all appealed for the release of the aid workers.
The United States and key ally Britain have said they will not yield to the kidnappers’ demands.
Thousands of civilians have been kidnapped in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, including more than 200 foreigners.
Some foreigners were seized by criminal gangs seeking ransom but insurgents also used them to pressure their governments to withdraw their armies from Iraq.
Many hostages have been released, but around 50 have been killed, some by grisly beheadings broadcast on the Internet.
Iraq group says killed US hostage â€” web
The Islamic Army in Iraq insurgent group said on Thursday it had killed an abducted US security consultant, according to an Internet statement.
The group said the man was killed because the US government did not fulfil its demands, which included freeing all Iraqi prisoners and compensation to Iraqis affected by US attacks.
“War criminal [US President George W.] Bush continues with his arrogance and no one has any value unless they serve his criminal interests, therefore the American security adviser pig at the housing ministry has been killed,” the statement said.
The statement’s authenticity could not be verified and no pictures or video accompanied the statement. It was posted on a website often used by insurgents and the group said it would soon provide photographs of the killing.
On Tuesday, the group had vowed to kill the man, identified as Ronald Schulz, in 48 hour unless its demands were met. The man was the seventh Westerner taken hostage by Iraqi gunmen in just over 10 days after a lull in such abductions in recent months following tight security measures by most Westerners.
The Islamic Army in Iraq has claimed a number of kidnappings and attacks on foreign and Iraqi government forces.