Multiple car bombs tore through an east Mosul suburb Thursday morning, killing 15 civilians and eight police officers, Iraqi officials said.
The victims were at a market and a police garage in the town of Gogjali, which Iraqi forces seized from Islamic State militants in early November as part of an effort to take back the city, Iraq’s second largest.
The terrorist group claimed responsibility, saying through its Amaq news agency that the attack was carried out by three suicide bombers targeting the Iraqi army. In addition to the dead, at least 50 people were wounded.
It was about 10:30 a.m. when Samir Hassan, a 29-year-old federal police officer from Baghdad, parked his Humvee outside the police garage and joined other officers at a checkpoint. Suddenly they saw a familiar boy running toward them.
His parents had been killed by Islamic State. The officers had been giving him food.
Hassan said the boy told them: “Suicide bombers are coming.”
By the time the officers spotted the two cars, it was too late. “We shot the cars, but they were armored,” Hassan said.
The explosions sent shrapnel into his left foot. He was taken to a hospital 25 miles east in Hamdaniya with other injured police.
The 60-bed hospital, which officially opened Thursday, was rapidly filling, said Brig. Gen. Mohamed Shakr, who runs it.
He said Islamic State was still active in the area. “They make us feel secure, then they attack,” he said of militants.
A second bombing was reported at about 11 a.m. at an open-air market not far from the police garage.
Mohamed Qasim, a medical student who treated victims at a nearby World Health Organization clinic, said most of the injured were male civilians. After the attack, authorities placed Iraqi soldiers outside the clinic and imposed a curfew.
“We think that there are sleeper cells in Gogjali, but we have many police and soldiers here to protect us,” Qasim said.
Islamic State took over Mosul, a city of 1.2 million, in 2014. Starting this October, Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition began clawing back territory, encircling the city and freeing about half of the east side.
In recent weeks, however, the offensive has stalled, with soldiers entrenched in the east and families trapped with militants. Mosul residents are coping with shortages of medicine, food and water.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who was visiting Hamdaniya on Thursday, said the Gogjali attacks were “to be expected.”
Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, commander of land forces in the coalition, said Islamic State is cornered and desperate to defend Mosul.
“Sometimes that means they will stay behind in areas that we have cleared,” he said.
During the last two days, four aid workers and at least seven civilians awaiting aid have been killed and another 40 injured, in two mortar attacks in east Mosul, said Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.
“People waiting for aid are already vulnerable and need help,” Grande said in a Thursday statement. “They should be protected, not attacked.”
9:21 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.
This article was originally published at 6 a.m.