By Ernesto Londoño and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 23, 2009; 12:41 PM
BAGHDAD, April 23 — Two suicide bombers killed more than 70 people Thursday in the bloodiest day in Iraq this year, grim evidence that Sunni insurgents remain capable of carrying out powerful attacks as U.S. forces begin to withdraw.
Shortly after the explosions in Baghdad and Diyala province, Iraqi authorities said they had detained the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who uses the alias Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
The assertion, made by Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for Iraq’s security forces, was startling because many U.S. military officials believe Baghdadi is a mythical figure created to give the Sunni insurgent organization, run mainly by non-Arabs, an Iraqi face.
Iraqi authorities in the past have made similar claims that turned out to be false. The U.S. military did not immediately comment on Thursday’s report.
The deadliest attack occurred at 12:45 p.m. west of Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province. The bomber detonated explosives inside the New Khanaqin restaurant in the town of Moqtadiya, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Qassim Ali Nassir, an official at the provincial security center.
The restaurant was crowded with Iranian pilgrims who made a lunch stop on their way to Baghdad, said Maj. Ghalib Attiya, a police official in Diyala. Most of the 47 people reportedly killed in the bombing were pilgrims. At least 69 people were wounded in the attack, said Maj. Derrick Cheng, a U.S. military spokesman.