Iraqis bury young victims of football match suicide attack

Iraq on Saturday buried the victims of a suicide attack that ripped through a trophy ceremony at the end of a football tournament and killed 32 people, among them many young boys. The bomber, who himself looks like a teenager on a photo distributed by ISIL who claimed the attack, cut through a crowd gathered after the final match and blew himself up. 

Babil province, announced three days of mourning following Friday’s attack, which sparked condemnation from visiting UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and outrage across the global footballing community. “There are 32 dead and also 84 wounded, 12 of whom are in a critical condition," said an official in Babil province’s health directorate. 

“Seventeen of those killed are boys aged between 10 and 16." The attack took place in the Babil village of Al Asriya, which lies near Iskandariyah, a town about 40 kilometres south of the capital. The bomber detonated his suicide vest as officials were handing out trophies to players after the tournament. 

A video posted on social media shows one official speaking in front of a table covered with trophies and calling out the name of a player before a huge blast. The footage cuts off with a big flash of yellow light. “The suicide bomber cut through the crowd to approach the centre of the gathering and blew himself up as the mayor was presenting awards to the players," said Ali Nashmi, an 18-year-old witness. 

The mayor, Ahmed Shaker, was among the dead, as was one of his bodyguards and at least five members of the security forces. Pictures posted on social media of the blast site showed mangled goalposts smeared with blood. The US state department extended its condolences to the bereaved, as did Mr Ban who was visiting Iraq at the time for talks. 

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the people and government of Iraq, and particularly those members of the families affected by terrorist attacks yesterday," he said. Gianni Infantino, the new head of world football’s main governing body Fifa, said he was “shocked and terribly saddened". 

“Around the world, football unites people. It is a very sad day, when people, going to a match together, become the victims of such violence," he added. The Asian Football Confederation also condemned the bombing. “Football is a powerful force for good and our game has a long history of bringing people together even during conflicts around the world," it said. 

 “Using football and sport stadiums as a stage for these heinous acts of violence is a cowardly, completely unjust and indiscriminate act." ISIL has been steadily losing territory in Iraq for almost a year. In the most recent operations, Iraqi forces have been gaining ground in the western province of Anbar and have just begun their reconquest of the province of Nineveh. 

Observers have warned that, as ISIL’s self-proclaimed “caliphate" shrinks towards extinction, its fighters are likely to revert to their old guerrilla tactics and ramp up suicide attacks on civilian targets.  

Agence France-Presse

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