BAGHDAD: A massive truck bomb ripped through a popular Baghdad food market in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in the early morning hours on Thursday, killing at least 62 people, police officials said.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it targeted a gathering place of Shiites and vowed more attacks
The truck detonated in the Jameela market in the Iraqi capital's crowded Sadr City neighborhood shortly after dawn, according to two local police officers. They also said that at least 125 people were wounded in the attack. The market is the main one for produce and food in the Iraqi capital.
Residents of the Shiite community rushed to help the victims, carrying corpses in garbage bags and sending the wounded to local hospitals in ambulances or personal cars. The blast incinerated much of the market, leaving charred wooden market stalls and scattering fruits and vegetables far around it.
Fire trucks and ambulances were at the scene and fire men were dousing the still-smoldering complex with water long after the explosion.
"On Thursdays the market is especially crowded because people come from the other provinces to stock up on food for the weekend," one of the officers said.
He said the truck that set off the explosion was a refrigeration truck, so it was impossible to distinguish it from other trucks delivering produce to the market.
A minibus driver, Hassan Hamid, said he driving not far from the area when the force of the explosion threw his vehicle about 10 meters (yards) off onto the sidewalk.
"This is the strongest explosion I ever saw in my life," said the 37-year old father of three, speaking from his hospital bed where he was being treated for shrapnel injuries. "I saw some cars were thrown into the sky and a fire erupted all over the place."
Four hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
In a message posted on an IS-affiliated Twitter account, the Islamic State said the attack was carried out by a parked, explosives-laden truck. The claim says the Islamic State seeks to have the "rejectionists (Shiites) experience the same harm as their bombardments cause to our Muslim people."
The Sunni militant group, which currently holds territory in about a third of Iraq, views Shiite Muslims, as well as other religious minorities, as apostates.
It often targets military checkpoints or predominantly Shiite neighborhoods such as Sadr City, with the goal of sending a message to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Commercial and public areas are also among the militants' favorite targets as they seek to undermine the people's confidence in government efforts to maintain security.
While near-daily attacks are common in the capital, death tolls have rarely reached this level for a single attack since the height of the country's brutal sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007.
When they launched their major onslaught across northern Iraq last year, the IS vowed to continue on to Baghdad. But a mobilization of volunteer Shiite fighters deterred any significant attacks on the capital.
Last month, the militant group targeted a popular market in the eastern province of Diyala, killing more than 115 people in one of the worst-single attacks to tear through the country in a decade.