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May 29, 10:37 AM EDT

Death toll from Baghdad hotel bombings rises to 15


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- The death toll from car bombs that targeted two prominent hotels in Baghdad a day earlier rose to 15 people, with another 42 wounded, Iraqi officials said Friday, as the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two separate car bombs went off late Thursday in the parking lots of the Cristal, formerly Sheraton, and Babil hotels. Officials initially said 10 people were killed and 27 wounded, but the casualty figures rose overnight.

The two explosions shattered the windows of the recently renovated hotels and destroyed several cars. Baghdad's top hotels are usually crowded on Thursday nights with people attending weddings and parties.

The ability of extremists to target heavily secured buildings in the heart of the capital brutally underscored the city's lingering vulnerability. The IS group has been able to carry out regular attacks in and around Baghdad, mainly targeting the security forces and the country's Shiite majority, while battling Iraqi forces on multiple fronts elsewhere in the country.

Police and hospital officials said a roadside bomb hit a commuter bus in eastern Baghdad on Friday, killing three passengers and wounding 10.

Police said the two hotel bombs were detonated by remote control and that a third car bomb near the Babil Hotel was discovered and defused early Friday. A police officer blamed the infiltration on the negligence of the hotel guards and the weak security measures adopted by police in Baghdad.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Sameer al-Shwaili, a spokesman for government's Anti-Terrorism Apparatus, said that more attacks on Baghdad are expected as military operations continue in an effort to drive out IS militants from the Sunni-majority provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin.

"The situation is directly related to operations in Anbar, and operations in Tikrit. Iraq is in a state of war and what happened in Baghdad is a product of that war," al-Shwaili told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The IS group claimed responsibility for the hotel attacks as part of "revenge operations" in Baghdad, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. group that monitors militant websites.

Iraqi parliamentarian Muwaffak al-Rubaie, a former national security adviser, said the IS group seems to be changing tactics and selecting new targets frequented by the middle and upper class.

"I think IS is developing new techniques for getting through the mirrors, the physical searches, and even the canine searches," said al-Rubaie.

Baghdad-based security expert Muataz Muhei said that Baghdad police officers and hotel security guards often lack the expertise needed to deal with the kind of security challenges presented by the IS group.

"Daesh chose those well-protected sites in order to display to the public that they are still able to hit hard targets," said Muhei, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group.

Iraq sees near-daily attacks that are frequently claimed by the extremist group - which seized large swaths of the country last year and recently overran the city of Ramadi, the provincial capital of the western Anbar province.

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Associated Press writers Vivian Salama and Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.

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