BAGHDAD — Gunmen shot and killed 23 members of an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq yesterday after stopping their bus and separating out followers of other faiths. At least 20 people were killed in car bombings in the capital.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Egypt’s leader to ignore widespread reports that the country is suffering “a civil or sectarian war.”
In the northern Iraq attack, armed men stopped the bus as it was carrying workers from a textile factory in Mosul to their hometown of Bashika, which has a mixed population of Christians and Yazidis. The Yazidis are a primarily Kurdish sect that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians.
The gunmen checked the passengers’ identification cards, then told all Christians to get off the bus, said police Brig. Mohammed al-Wagga.
With the Yazidis still inside, the gunmen drove them to eastern Mosul, where they were lined up along a wall and shot to death, al-Wagga said.
After the killings, hundreds of Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika. Shops were shuttered and many Muslim residents closed themselves in their homes, fearing reprisal attacks. Police set up additional checkpoints across the city.
Bashika is about 80 per cent Yazidi, 15 per cent Christian and five per cent Muslim.
Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a police spokesperson for Ninevah province, said the execution-style killings were in response to the killing two weeks ago of a Yazidi woman who had converted to Islam after she fell in love with a Muslim and ran off with him.
Her relatives had disapproved of the match and dragged her back to Bashika, where she was stoned to death, he said.
A grainy video showing gruesome scenes of the woman’s killing was distributed on Iraqi websites in recent weeks.
In Baghdad, two suicide car bombs exploded within moments of each other in Baiyaa, a mixed Sunni-Shiite area in the western part of the capital. The first driver raced through a police checkpoint guarding the station and exploded his vehicle just outside the two-storey building. The second bomber aimed his explosives at the checkpoint’s concrete barriers.