Homicide Bomber Kills 26, Injures 22 in Shiite-Packed Cafe

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A suicide bomber detonated explosives Sunday inside a cafe packed with Shiites in northern Iraq, killing 26 people and injuring 22, an Iraqi general said. Gunmen seized a top Oil Ministry official in the second major kidnapping in as many days.

In the south, a British soldier was killed and another wounded against a raid against "terrorist suspect" in Basra, the British military said. British troops arrested a top Shiite militia leader in the city, Iraqi police said, but it was unclear if the two events were linked.

The suicide attack occurred about 8:30 p.m. in a cafe in the outdoor market in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Turkomen city 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.

CountryWatch: Iraq

Turkomen, one of Iraq's ethnic main groups, follow both the Sunni and Shiite traditions of Islam. Amin said Shiites favored the cafe because it was located near a Shiite mosque. But friction exists among the Turkomen and Kurdish populations and the motive for the attack was unclear.

The blast was so powerful that it collapsed the ceiling of the one-story cafe, burying many of the victims, witnesses said. Hours after the blast, rescuers were still sifting through the debris looking for the dead or injured.

Authorities used mosque loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations.

In Baghdad, gunmen Sunday seized a senior Iraqi Oil Ministry official in the second high-profile kidnapping in the Iraqi capital in as many days.

Attackers stopped Adel Kazzaz, director of the North Oil Co., shortly after he left the Oil Ministry in eastern Baghdad, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said. They beat his bodyguards and whisked him away, Jihad said.

The government-owned North Oil Co. runs Iraq's oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk, and Kazzaz was in the capital for a meeting with ministry officials.

The northern fields have been plagued for years by sabotage attacks on pipelines and other infrastructure. Exports were restored last month after a long delay but halted again last week and not expected to resume soon.

On Saturday, gunmen kidnapped the head of Iraq's National Olympic Committee and 30 other people. Six were set free Sunday in eastern Baghdad, left blindfolded and unharmed but otherwise unharmed, Iraq's Sport Journalist Union said.

There was no word on the other hostages, including the Olympic National Committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya.

A British military statement said the British soldier was mortally wounded during a raid to arrest terror suspects in a northern Basra neighborhood. The other soldier's wounds were not life-threatening, the Ministry of Defense said in London.

British spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge said the operation a significant number of troops as well as helicopters and armored personnel carriers and two suspects were detained. But he gave no further information.

In Basra, however, police officials said British troops had arrested Sajid Badir, leader of dreaded Mahdi Army in the city. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation by the militia, which wields considerable power in the city and has infiltrated the police.

Last May, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in Basra, the country's second-largest city and a major oil-producing center, vowing to wield an "iron fist" to end militia rule there.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is under strong pressure to disband the militias, including the Mahdi Army which is run by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The militias are accused of fanning the flames of sectarian violence which threaten to plunge the country into civil war.

Also Sunday, gunmen swooped down on the detention wing of the main hospital in Baqouba, 55 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, and freed 13 prisoners under treatment there, police said. Four policemen were killed in the assault and three prisoners were later recaptured, police said.

Baqouba is the capital of Diyala province, where Sunni-Shiite tensions run high and where Sunni insurgents are active. Police refused to give details about the prisoners and why they were being detained.

Elsewhere, a suicide bomber attacked a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in the northern city of Mosul, killing three civilians and wounding six others, including two women, police said. There were no reports of U.S. casualties.

In Baghdad, a bomb hidden in a trash bag exploded in a commercial area of the Karradah district, killing four people and wounding 21 others, police said. One person was killed and two were wounded when a bomb exploded near a police patrol in north Baghdad, police said.

Two people were killed and five were wounded in a gunbattle between police and militants in another north Baghdad neighborhood, police said. The dead included one civilian and one of the gunmen, police said.

Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying three guards of the Baghdad mobile telephone company, killing one and wounding the others, according to police.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, two barbers were killed in a drive-by shooting, police said. Drive-by shootings killed one person in Mosul and another in Muqdadiyah, northeast of the capital.