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Suicide Bombers Kill at Least 77 During Friday Prayers at Two Iraqi Mosques

Four suicide bombings in two separate locations in Iraq have caused numerous casualties and damage. Two car bombs exploded early Friday morning outside a Baghdad hotel that houses mostly foreign journalists. Later, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a Shi'ite mosque about 145 kilometers northeast of the capital, killing at least 70.

The first suicide bombings occurred early Friday outside the al-Hamra Hotel in the Jadriyah district of Baghdad.

Witnesses report that a minivan and a truck carrying red plastic barrels came down a side road that leads to the hotel. Approaching a series of tall, concrete barriers protecting the hotel's perimeter, the minivan exploded, creating a crater nearly two meters deep.

The truck, which had been closely following the minivan, then attempted to drive through the hole made by the first blast. Failing to do so, the truck exploded about 20 seconds later.

The twin blasts partially collapsed several nearby apartment buildings and caused heavy damage to the al-Hamra hotel and several other hotels located inside the complex.

Body parts, believed to be that of the suicide bombers, flew more than 180 meters and landed in the courtyard of the al-Hamra.

Dazed and bleeding Iraqi residents gathered in the street, unable to believe the devastation left behind by the bombings. Bomb experts believe a combined total of about 500 kilograms of explosives were packed inside the two vehicles.

One of the residents in the neighborhood is former Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, a Sunni Arab who served under the previous interim administration of Iyad Allawi.

"They are targeting innocent Iraqis. Those gangsters and people behind them should be stopped as soon as possible," he said.

Mr. Naqib refused to say which group he was referring to, but he has been a vocal critic of the current interior minister, Bayan Jabr, and the minister's links to an Iran-trained Shi'ite militia called the Badr Brigade.

Mr. Jabr has been under intense scrutiny from Iraqi and western media this past week, after U.S. troops discovered nearly 170 abused and starving mostly Sunni Arab prisoners at an interior ministry-run facility on Sunday. Mr. Jabr and the head of the Badr group have both denied Sunni charges that ministry officials and the Badr Brigade are working together to detain, torture and kill Sunni Arabs.

The detention facility found Sunday is located just a few hundred meters from the al-Hamra hotel, which houses many of the western journalists who have been reporting on the detainee abuse scandal, including VOA. No western journalist was killed or seriously injured in the attack.

Meanwhile, two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Khanaqin, about 145 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, during Friday prayers.

Local officials estimated the death toll could reach 100 or more, saying that many bodies were still trapped in the rubble of the mosque.