Nearly 100 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a massive suicide truck bomb blast at a petrol station south of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, according to police and medical sources.
The target of Thursday’s attack near the town of Hilla appeared to be Shia Muslim pilgrims returning from the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage in the holy city of Karbala.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Erbil, said an oil tanker rigged with explosives tore through the petrol station, which has a restaurant on its premises that is popular with travellers.
The whole place was completely wrecked. It was a massive blast,” Abdel-Hamid said.
“When the gas tanker blew up, it also torched several buses and minivans that were carrying the pilgrims.”
Our correspondent said that as of 03:00 GMT on Friday the number of those killed in the attack was at least 97, rising from a previous death toll of 80.
Earlier, security sources had said they expected casualty figures to increase in the coming hours.
“It is believed that among them are not only Iraqis, but some Iranians too, while some unconfirmed reports also say that there could be some Bahrainis among the victims.”
“With today’s attack, ISIL is sending the message that it can still cause and inflict a lot of pain,” Abdel-Hamid said.
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Videos circulating on social media showed debris scattered over a large area along the main highway linking Baghdad to the main southern port city of Basra.
“There are completely charred corpses at the scene,” said Falah al-Radhi, head of the provincial security committee, adding that at least 20 wounded were transferred to nearby hospitals.
The Joint Operations Command in Baghdad issued a statement saying the lorry was packed with 500 litres of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound used in many explosive devices.