World News

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Baghdad Bombings

Posted January 17, 2018 9:31 p.m. EST

The Islamic State on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings in Baghdad this week that killed at least 27 people. It was the first major attack in Iraq’s capital since the government declared victory over the terrorist group last month.

The nearly simultaneous explosions occurred minutes apart just after 6 a.m. Monday, with the first assailant detonating his explosives in a square where day laborers were gathering to find work. The second bomber set off his explosives as people rushed to help the wounded, according to a traffic police officer who witnessed the episode. That sequence is a well-established pattern for the Islamic State and al-Qaida, and is aimed at killing the maximum number of civilians.

But the statement released on the messaging app Telegram had a number of errors, including the location of Monday’s attack. It said that it had occurred at Aden Square in Baghdad, where the police said an attack was foiled on Saturday, rather than in Tayaran Square, where Monday’s explosions took place. That error, and the delay in issuing a claim of responsibility, suggests that the Islamic State’s media apparatus has been disrupted in the period since the group lost nearly 98 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

In addition, the Islamic State said that there were three attackers, not two. The communiqué identified them by code names, and said that the first two detonated their explosive vests in quick succession, while the third hit another gathering in the same area sometime after the first two explosions, according to a translation of the statement provided by SITE Intelligence Group.

In its statement, the Islamic State identified the open-air market that was attacked as a gathering of “rafidha” and of “polytheists,” two words they use to refer to Shiite Muslims in a derogatory manner. The first term, derived from the Arabic root meaning “to reject,” is a reference to the fact that members of the Shiite branch of Islam chose to follow a different lineage from the one followed by Sunnis after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The second refers to the group’s view that Shiites have strayed from Islam’s monotheistic creed because of the reverence they show for historical figures, like Imam Ali.

Of note is the length of time it took for the Islamic State to issue its claim of responsibility. While the group has sometimes taken days to claim responsibility for attacks outside Iraq and Syria, it is unusual for it to delay announcements for an attack in Baghdad, which may suggest a weakening of the group’s media arm.