IS car bomb in Iraq kills 56, including 20 Iranians

Iranian civil-defense personnel search for survivors in the rubble at the scene of a car-bomb attack Thursday near Hilla, Iraq.
Hadi Mizban ~ Associated Press

HILLA, Iraq -- A car bomb tore through a gas station south of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 56 people, including 20 Iranians, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Police and hospital officials confirmed the toll and said another 45 people were wounded in the attack, which almost destroyed the gas station, several nearby stores and set several cars afire. The station is on a major highway.

The blast knocked out power at the station, forcing relatives looking for the remains of loved ones to use the glare of mobile phones to guide them.

Body parts that remained unclaimed were gathered in a blue bag and placed on the sidewalk outside the station. Large sections of the station were covered in blood.

Iran deputy foreign minister Hassan Qashqavi was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying 80 people were killed, including 40 Iranians. Conflicting death tolls are common in the aftermath of large attacks.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack in a brief statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, saying it was a suicide truck bomb.

The Iraqi officials said the target of the attack appears to have been a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims heading home after taking part in a major Shiite religious observance in the holy city of Karbala. The blast left the bus and about a dozen cars charred.

The Shiite observance marks the 40th day after the death anniversary of a much revered, seventh-century imam. It attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, including many Iranians who travel overland into Iraq for the occasion.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Thursday's attack came a day after several small-scale bombings in and around Baghdad killed 31 people and wounded more than a 100, a bloody day even by the standards of the Iraqi capital, which has for more than a decade endured near-daily violence blamed on IS or its forerunner, al-Qaida in Iraq.