BAGHDAD (AP) — An attack on a cafe in central Iraq killed at least 13 people on Friday, including a group of Real Madrid soccer fans, prompting condemnation from the Spanish government and the football club, which said players would wear black arm bands in mourning.
The Islamic State group claimed the attack, in which a group of gunmen and two suicide bombers assaulted a cafe in Balad, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad. Another 15 people were wounded in the assault, which the extremist group said had targeted government-allied militiamen.
IS did not mention soccer fans in its statement, and it's unlikely that they were the target of the attack. Most IS attacks target Iraqi security forces, pro-government militias and areas packed with Shiite civilians. The bombings are aimed at distracting from the group's battlefield losses and undermining faith in the Shiite-led Iraqi government. IS views Iraq's Shiite majority as apostates deserving death.
Statements released by the Spanish government and Real Madrid said the attack targeted a local fan club. It was not immediately clear what their information was based on. Soccer is hugely popular in Iraq, and Real Madrid and Barcelona are among the most cheered-for teams, making it likely that fans would have gathered in the cafe.
The soccer club said its players will wear black armbands Saturday at Deportivo La Coruna. A Real Madrid win combined with a loss or draw by Barcelona would give Real Madrid the Spanish league title on the final round.
"The club expresses its deepest sadness and extends its condolences and sympathy to the family and friends of the victims," it said in a statement. "Real Madrid extends its solidarity to the people of Iraq, who suffer the horrible injustices of extreme violence."
The Spanish government condemned the attack "in the strongest terms possible," but its statement said the attack took place in Samarra, around 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Balad. Officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the discrepancy.
The attack came on the heels of a two-day wave of bombings in Baghdad that killed nearly 100 people — attacks that were also claimed by IS. The deadliest struck the sprawling Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 63 people.
In the Balad attack, three gunmen armed with machine guns opened fire into the crowded cafe. When police arrived at the scene, two of the attackers detonated their suicide vests, according to Iraqi security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the wave of attacks and said the government is ultimately responsible for such security breaches, accusing the country's politicians of "closing their ears to their advisers."
The reclusive al-Sistani's words were relayed by his aide Ahmed al-Safi in a televised speech from the holy city of Karbala following Friday prayers. Over three months ago, al-Sistani suspended his weekly political sermons after his repeated demands that the country's politicians tackle corruption went unheeded.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.