BAGHDAD — Al-Qaida in Iraq's new leader warned Shiites on Friday that "dark days soaked with blood" lie ahead and that a new campaign of attacks was under way.
Later Friday, three suicide bombers blew themselves up at a sports field in a predominantly Shiite town in northern Iraq, killing at least 10 people and wounding another 120, police and hospital officials said.
Only days before the warning, Iraq was wracked by the worst attack this year, a series of coordinated bombings and assassinations that killed 119 people – most of them Shiites and members of the security forces – across 10 cities.
The Iraqi insurgent umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq, named al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman as its new minister of war, replacing the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri, killed in a U.S.-Iraqi military strike on a safe house in April. The ISI counts al-Qaida as one of its member groups.
"Wait for the long gloomy nights and dark days soaked with blood," said Abu Suleiman, addressing Iraq's "polytheistic rejecters," an insulting term for Shiites common among extremist Sunnis. "What is happening to you nowadays is just a drizzle." The written message was posted on militant websites Friday.
One of the major doctrinal disputes between Sunnis and Shiites can be traced back to the first three rulers of the Muslim community after the Prophet Muhammad. Shiites reject those first three successors as illegitimate.
Al-Qaida attacks on Shiite shrines in 2006 plunged the country into a bloody cycle of mutual sectarian attacks. A measure of fragile calm, however, has returned to Iraq in the past two years.
There are fears that with the new round of attacks, mostly targeting Shiites, al-Qaida is hoping to provoke a backlash against Sunnis and re-ignite the sectarian warfare that brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Authorities in Tal Afar, which is located between the Syrian border and the volatile city of Mosul, said the bombings took place at the end of a football game.
The first bomber waited until the end of the match and then detonated his car bomb amid a crowd of supporters and players near the field's entrance. In the ensuing panic, two other attackers activated their suicide belts inside the screaming crowd, local police officials said.
Hours earlier, a car bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque south of Baghdad just after prayers, wounding 20 worshippers as they were leaving, a local police official said.
The car bomb was parked just 10 yards from the front door of the mosque, the official said. There was no security around the building because it was under construction. It was, however, still being used by worshippers.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonyimty because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
As is often the case in Iraq, there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but the style and targets are similar to past al-Qaida attacks.
Abu Suleiman promised to "continue the path of jihad" and said his warriors had already begun "a new campaign of attacks on security and military checkpoints in Baghdad and elsewhere."
During Monday's attacks, violence in Baghdad consisted mainly of early morning strikes against security checkpoints that killed nearly a dozen police and military officials.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed to this report from Cairo.