Middle East

Iraqi troops 'end Baghdad hostage crisis'

Iraqi policemen stand guard outside a building occupied by a state-owned company that was stormed by attackers in the northeast of the capital Baghdad (30 January 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Attackers stormed the building in the northeast of the Iraqi capital

Iraqi security forces have ended a hostage crisis at a government building in Baghdad, but there are conflicting reports about the number of casualties.

Officials said the six men who had stormed the transport ministry facility and taken several hostages were killed.

Two policemen who had been guarding the building also died, they added. But one security source put the toll at 18.

No group has claimed responsibility, though Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda have mounted similar attacks.

Violence has surged across Iraq in the past year, reaching levels not seen since the height of the sectarian insurgency in 2007.

The United Nations says 7,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces died in 2013. More than 900 people are reported to have been killed since the start of the year.

Explosive vests

The brazen assault on the transport ministry facility in the capital's north-east began just after midday.

Officials told the AFP news agency that the attackers had all been wearing explosive vests and had initially tried to detonate a car bomb at the entrance to the building.

When it did not explode, one of the men blew himself up to clear the way for the others, the officials added. A second man then detonated his suicide vest at an inner gate.

The four remaining militants then held a number of people hostage for several hours before they were killed by security forces, interior ministry spokesman Gen Saad Maan told the BBC.

One of the police guards who died had been at an entrance and the other had been in charge of monitoring security cameras, he said.

A senior security source told the Reuters news agency that the militants killed at least 18 people including themselves and four hostages. It is not clear who the others were.

During the operation security forces sealed off the surrounding area, which is also home to the transport ministry's headquarters and a human rights ministry building.

Also on Thursday, at least four people were killed by a car bomb in the northern Kasra district of Baghdad, according to the Associated Press. Nine people were killed in bombings in the capital on Wednesday night.

The violence comes amid a month-long stand-off between the security forces and Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda who have seized control of two cities in the western province of Anbar.

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