BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber who hid among the Sunni congregation in a northern Iraqi mosque sprayed gunfire at worshipers Friday and then blew himself up, killing at least 15 people, including the imam leading prayers, officials said.
The brazen attack was the latest against Sunni clerics who have increasingly spoken out against al-Qaida in Iraq since U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities at the end of June. The clerics and others fear that militants could take advantage of the transition to step up the kind of sectarian attacks that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war two years ago.
The man who opened fire in the mosque in Tal Afar first shot the imam, Abdul-Satar Hassan, before turning his AK-47 assault rifle on worshipers, witnesses said. He detonated his explosives after running out of ammunition.
Ninety-five people were wounded in the attack, said Ismail Majeed, a doctor at Tal Afar hospital. Hassan, a member of Iraq's largest Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, was among the 15 people killed, he said.
Sahir Jalal, 37, who was sitting and listening to the sermon, said Hassan had just begun speaking when a man in the crowd stood.
"Then he took out a small rifle from under his jacket and started to shoot," he said. Seconds later, the man shouted "God is Great!" and detonated explosives strapped to his body, he said.
The attack follows a string of others against Sunni clerics in Iraq. Earlier this week, the cleric who leads the biggest Sunni mosque in Baghdad was wounded by a bomb attached to his car.