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22 killed in mosque bomb attack

At least 26 people have been killed by a bomb hidden in the air conditioning at a Sunni mosque and other attacks in Iraq, extending a wave of violence targeting worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan.

Suicide attacks, car bombings and other violence have killed more than 200 people since the Islamic holy month of daytime fasting and charity began last week, according to an Associated Press count.

The violence is an extension of a surge of attacks that has rocked Iraq for months, reviving fears of a return to the widespread sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Most of Friday's victims died in the blast during midday prayers at the packed Abu Bakir al-Sideeq mosque in the town of Wijaihiya, about 50 miles north-east of Baghdad.

Worshippers and other witnesses said the bomb was apparently planted inside a wall-mounted air conditioning unit to the left of the pulpit. AP television footage of the aftermath showed the interior of the mosque near the bomb site charred black and shrapnel damage peppering the walls. Glass, shoes and other debris littered the blood-soaked red prayer rugs lining the floor.

One of those praying inside, 30-year-old Mohammed Faleh, said the blast struck as male worshippers, including children, were kneeling during communal prayers. "I stood up to find bloodstained bodies lying on the ground. The Friday prayer turned into a disaster. Whoever left these bombs has no religion," he said.

Mr Faleh said security forces found a second bomb left near the mosque that they rendered safe with a controlled explosion.

Between 250 and 300 people were inside the mosque when the bombing happened, said Sami Dawoud Salman, a member of the local Sahwa, a group of anti-al Qaida Sunni militiamen who work alongside government security forces. He said the mosque was unguarded and that the local imam had been unsuccessful in getting increased protection.

Police and hospital officials said that at least 22 people were killed and more than 50 injured in the mosque blast.

Attacks outside the volatile city of Mosul, 225 miles north-west of Baghdad, claimed four more lives. Two women died when mortar shells landed outside their house in a nearby village, and a roadside bomb killed a father and son when it struck their car, authorities said.

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