Iraq police storm mall, kill gunmen after standoff
KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi police stormed a mall in a northern city that al-Qaida gunmen used to launch an attack on a nearby police station, killing three militants and ending an hourslong standoff as attacks elsewhere left seven dead Thursday, authorities said.
Militants held off police from their rooftop position on six-story Jawahir mall in Kirkuk overnight, throwing down grenades and firing on officers and civilians who tried to flee the fighting. Officers raided the mall Thursday morning before dawn, killing the militants, said Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir, Kirkuk's police commander.
No security forces or civilians were wounded in that fighting, Qadir said, though it left large portions of the mall burned. Eleven storekeepers hid inside the mall during the attack, scared to leave, he said.
The fighting in Kirkuk began Wednesday, when authorities said a car bomb exploded at the gates of the Police Intelligence Department. A suicide bomber on foot entered the station and detonated his explosives after that, officials said. The gunmen on the mall's roof then opened fire down on the station, they said.
The police station attack killed five officers and two civilians, while wounding some 70 people, Qadir said. A similar style attack Tuesday on a mayor's office in Tarmiyah killed 10 people, officials said.
In a statement posted on a militant website Thursday, the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the Kirkuk attacks, claiming six suicide bombers took part in the assault on the police station and the mall.
"A suicide bomber exploded his car bomb at the gate of the headquarters, paving the way for his brothers. Then, three attackers stormed the headquarters and started to reap the heads of the tyrants by using assault rifles and hand grenades ... then they set off their explosive belts," the group said.
It said the gunmen in the mall used explosives to kill themselves as police launched their raid.
The authenticity of the statement could not be absolutely verified, though it was posted on a website commonly used by jihadis and its style was consistent with earlier al-Qaida statements.
Meanwhile Thursday, police said gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed the house of a police major in Arej village just south of Mosul, about 350 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. The gunmen killed the police major and his two sons, officials said.
In western Baghdad, a bomb blast on a commercial street killed two people and wounded six, police said. An explosion near shops in the town of Madian, just south of Baghdad, killed two people and wounded six, officials said.
Violence has spiked in Iraq following a security deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in April. More than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year, according to United Nations estimates.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.