Three militants gunned down coffee shop patrons in central Iraq on Friday morning before later blowing themselves up and security personnel, killing at least 20 people, officials said, in the latest deadly attacks claimed by ISIS in the country.
Counting Friday’s carnage in Balad, a Shiite-majority city 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad, attacks claimed by the Sunni terror group ISIS have left more than 110 people dead in the last three days.
In Friday’s first attack, gunmen stormed al-Furat coffee shop in Balad, shooting and killing at least 13 people and injuring 22 others, Iraqi police said.
Security forces then set up checkpoints in the area, but the gunmen weren’t immediately found.
Two hours later, three men wearing explosive vests — believed to be the coffee shop attackers — engaged in a gunfight with security personnel at a major checkpoint in the city, police said.
All three attackers eventually blew themselves up at the checkpoint. The gunbattle and explosions left seven police officers dead and 12 others injured, security officials said.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted by its supporters.
ISIS changing strategy
Political risk analyst Kirk Sowell said earlier this week that the jihadist group’s tactics are changing as it loses grip on territory. ISIS has controlled parts of Iraq and Syria for what it calls its Islamic caliphate.
“ISIS has receded somewhat militarily; they don’t have a … standing army to hold territory,” Sowell said. “But what they’re good at unfortunately is these terrorist attacks against soft targets.
“(Wednesday) was worse than most, but in the last few months there’s been this increased focus on terrorist attacks going back to pre-2014 tactics.”
Experts have said a security vacuum has opened in Iraq as it faces renewed political turmoil. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is struggling to firm up a government capable of battling ISIS and, at the same time, address the country’s long-standing economic and political wounds from years of war.