Mosque bomber disguised as beggar
Baghdad - The suicide bomber who killed 29 people at Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque disguised himself as a beggar and attended prayers there for nearly a week to avoid raising suspicions, a senior religious figure said on Monday.
The attack hit Sunnis praying at a special service on Sunday night during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and appeared calculated to try to re-ignite widespread violence in Iraq just months before all US troops are required to withdraw from the country.
The bomber, who pretended to be a beggar, had attended prayers for six straight days at the Um al-Qura mosque in western Baghdad, said Sheik Ahmed Abdul Gafur al-Samarraie, head of an endowment that oversees all Sunni religious sites nationwide.
He said the bomber had a bandaged hand and appeared to pose no threat.
"When his face became familiar to the guards they didn't search him," al-Samarraie told reporters at the mosque, where blood still stained the marble floors and stairs.
He said guards first became suspicious when they saw the man moving through the crowd trying to get close to al-Samarraie and took him outside. But the man returned through a back door and blew himself up when he was a few steps away from al-Samarraie.
Under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, Iraq's Shi'ite majority was persecuted and repressed. Shiites took power after his ousting, stoking Sunni resentment.
A 2006 attack on a Shi'ite shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra escalated widespread sectarian violence in Iraq and nearly ignited a nationwide civil war.