BAGHDAD (AP) - A suicide bomber disguised as a worshipper blew himself up inside a Shiite mosque north of Baghdad Thursday and killed eight people, a police spokesman said, shattering a period of relative calm across the country.
Eighteen people were injured in the blast in the city of Balad Ruz, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said the police spokesman, Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Sunni militants have often targeted Shiite mosques as a way to incite sectarian violence.
Most of the dead were worshippers at the mosque.
Al-Karkhi said the suicide bomber had dressed up in a long black cloak called an abaya and a black turban in order to mingle with worshippers inside the Imam al-Hussein mosque.
The black turban is usually worn by Shiite Muslims who are direct descendants of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Such people are usually treated with great respect within the Shiite community and as such the bomber was not searched going into the mosque, al-Karkhi said.
An official in the Balad Ruz police department said the suicide bomber was part of a group of three men appearing to work together. All were wearing religious clothing and approached the mosque together, pretending to be visiting from Baghdad. After the security guard searched two of them, they brushed off his attempts to search the third man by alluding to their religious credentials. The guard let the third man, who was the suicide bomber, enter unsearched.
One of the men was killed in the attack; the third was injured and in police custody, the official said. He did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Brig. Nadhir Gorani, the commander of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, visited the mosque after the explosion and said blood was spattered on the carpet. He said the bomber struck at the beginning of evening prayer.
Diyala is a mixed Sunni and Shiite province that has been a flash point of violence in the past. While violence has declined dramatically since the height of the sectarian tensions a few years ago, the attack shows the insurgency is still trying to provoke the type of sectarian conflict that once tore Iraq apart.
Iraqis are particularly on edge now as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from the country entirely by the end of this year, and many Iraqis wonder what effect this will have on their security.
Earlier Thursday, a car bomb exploded in another town, killing four people.
The bomb targeted police Lt. Col. Mohammed Muhsin al-Jibouri as he drove through the northern town of Hawija, Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir said.
The slain officer was traveling in a civilian car with his three guards. The blast also wounded eight bystanders. Sunni militants often target security officials as a way to intimidate people from joining the security services or to cripple the police's capabilities.
The Sunni-dominated town of Hawija, once an insurgent stronghold, is located about 150 miles north of Baghdad.