BAGHDAD – A passenger van packed with explosives blew up Friday at a bus station north of Baghdad where Shiite pilgrims had stopped for the night, killing four people and wounding dozens, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
The blast happened a day after a female suicide bomber struck Shiite pilgrims traveling to Karbala for a major religious festival, killing at least 18 people and wounding 75.
Those attacks raised concern that extremists were seeking to re-ignite the firestorm of sectarian massacres that plunged Iraq to the brink of civil war two years ago before thousands of U.S. reinforcements were rushed to the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Shiites from throughout Iraq have been traveling by foot or by vehicle to Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, for the religious festival.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said the blast occurred Friday evening at a bus terminal in Balad, a mostly Shiite town surrounded by Sunni villages about 50 miles north of the capital near one of the major U.S. military bases.
No group has claimed responsibility for the pilgrim attacks. Attacks on Shiite civilians – especially during Shiite religious festivals – have been the hallmark of Sunni extremists, including al-Qaida in Iraq.
The Shiite festival, Shabaniyah, celebrates the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th Shiite imam, who disappeared in the ninth century. Devout Shiites call him the Hidden Imam and believe he will return to restore peace and harmony.
The ceremonies reach their high point tonight and Sunday morning.