BAGHDAD, Iraq—Afternoon prayers in Baqouba had just ended Friday when a man rode up to a Shiite mosque on a bicycle.
The guards there turned him away. Moments later, a blast ripped through the area, killing at least four Iraqis and wounding 36. Propane on the bike had been rigged into an improvised bomb, according to Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. military spokeswoman. The explosion was near a military installation in town, but no soldiers were injured.
Television footage from the debris-ridden scene showed bodies splayed across the road and mourners wailing. Baqouba is about an hour and a half northeast of Baghdad.
There were reports Friday night that another bomb, hidden in a car, was found in front of a second Shiite mosque nearby, but it didn't explode.
If the intended victims were those leaving worship, it would be another in a line of incidents pointing toward an escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq. Shiite and Sunni Muslims are competing for influence in the future government of post-war Iraq.
Last month, a Sunni mosque in Baghdad was bombed, killing three people. In November, three others were killed in a mosque blast in the holy Shiite city of Karbala.
Aberle said it wasn't clear whether Friday's incident was a suicide bombing or if the man threw down the bicycle and ran.
As the military has cracked down on the insurgency in Iraq, rebels have turned more and more to extreme tactics. In Karbala last month, for example, four coordinated suicide bombers killed 18 people and wounded more than 150.
To the north of Baghdad, 4th Infantry Division soldiers conducted a series of raids starting late Thursday night and continuing until early Friday morning in the town of Tikrit, the area where Saddam Hussein was captured last month. Hundreds of soldiers swept through town, capturing dozens of Iraqis. All but 12 were released. Those detained were suspected of being Saddam loyalists.
In the capital, a group of attackers launched three rocket-propelled grenades at the downtown Bourj al Hayat hotel early Friday morning. The grenades knocked a hole in the outside wall of the hotel and shattered windows. After firing, the attackers fled down a side street and then began shooting at the hotel with AK-47s, said Massud Ibrahim, a hotel security guard. The hotel is home to many Western contractors.
It was a violent week in Iraq.
Witnesses in the town of Fallujah, about an hour west of Baghdad, said insurgents shot down a UH-60 Black Hawk on Thursday, killing all nine soldiers on board. On Wednesday, a mortar attack killed one American soldier and wounded 30 others in a military base also west of Baghdad, and on Monday, two French contractors were shot to death on the side of the road leading into Baghdad.
Standing outside the Bourj al Hayat hotel on Friday, Ibrahim said he had an idea of who was behind the attacks.
"I suspect terrorists," he said. But who, exactly, those people are is something that he said he's still figuring out.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.