BAGHDAD — Masked gunmen killed 15 people in a daring daytime robbery Tuesday, blasting their way into a Baghdad street of goldsmiths and shooting customers and storekeepers before fleeing with armfuls of gold.
Security officials quickly blamed the midday attack in the southwestern neighborhood of Bayaa on the Sunni militant al-Qaida in Iraq, which is known to at least partially fund its operations through extortion and crime in Baghdad and Mosul.
Witnesses said 15 to 20 gunmen, wearing scarves over their faces and using pistols fitted with silencers, took part in the raid. The thieves blocked the street with their vehicles and threw grenades as they moved among the stores, smashing windows and grabbing cash and jewelry.
On a street dotted with pools of blood and piles of broken glass, residents wondered how the gang had managed to launch such a well-organized attack in an area surrounded by blast walls and many checkpoints.
"There are checkpoints, how could they carry this out?" asked Abu Shahad, 28, a resident of the street. "Surely they must have some senior figure in the government supporting them."
Authorities immediately said they had detained the security officials responsible for the area on suspicion of negligence and had also detained two suspected assailants. Two police officers who raced to the scene were injured, and officials said one gunman was killed.
Goldsmiths are a common target in Baghdad, and there have been several similar raids over the last year in which at least 20 goldsmiths and passersby have died.
The government has recently claimed big successes in the battle against al-Qaida in Iraq. Two recently arrested al-Qaida leaders, an Algerian and a Saudi, confessed last week to participating in a number of robberies of jewelry stores, a prominent currency exchange dealer and a bank to fund the group's activities, police said.