At least 80 people have been killed as a massive bomb blast ripped through a petrol station south of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, according to security sources.
The target of Thursday’s attack near the town of Hilla appeared to be Shia Muslim pilgrims returning from the Arbaeen pilgrimage in the holy city of Karbala.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid said, reporting from Erbil, said the attack involved a rigged gas tanker which was parked near a petrol station with an adjacent restaurant popular with travellers.
“When the gas tanker blew up it also torched several buses and minivans that were carrying the pilgrims,” Abdel-Hamid said.
“The head of the security [of Babil province] says so far the death toll is 80 people, but that is likely to rise as there are are several more in critical condition.”
“It is believed that among them are not only Iraqis, but some Iranians too, while some unconfirmed reports also say that there could be some Bahrainis among the victims.”
ISIL has intensified attacks over the past month in areas out of its control in efforts to weaken a large-scale military offensive launched last month to retake Mosul, the last major city under its control in Iraq.