BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber blew himself up Saturday on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims, officials said, killing 26 people headed back from a revered shrine that has been a flash point in Iraqi sectarian strife.
It was the second attack in three days targeting visitors to the Askari mosque in the former insurgent stronghold of Samarra, north of Baghdad, for commemorations of the death of a ninth century religious figure who is buried there.
Witness Kamil Mamdoh described mayhem, with police shooting into the air to disperse the hysterical crowd.
"After we heard a thunderous blast, we rushed to the scene," Mamdoh said. "The ambulances were filled with casualties, and some of the wounded wore torn clothes covered with blood."
The shrine is still being rebuilt after its golden dome was destroyed in a Feb. 22, 2006, bombing that was blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq and sparked years of retaliatory bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites. Officials said the mosque was not damaged in Saturday's attack.
A Samarra police officer said the bomber joined the busload of pilgrims in a parking lot about 2 miles from the mosque and detonated his explosives-packed vest. The blast set fire to at least eight cars and buses parked in the lot, he said.
Samarra is 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Police and hospital officials in Samarra and the nearby city of Balad confirmed the death toll and said about 30 other people were wounded.