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Coordinated attacks in northern Iraqi city kill 11, wound 70

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a police intelligence headquarters and a nearby shopping mall in a coordinated attack in the northern city of Kirkuk late on Wednesday, killing 11 people and wounding 70, police and medical sources said.

Two suicide bombers armed with sniper rifles entered the shopping complex, took control of it and captured around 15 shoppers as hostages, police said.

After a gun battle, one suicide bomber blew himself up and the other was shot dead by Kurdish security forces who took over the operation from local police. One hostage was wounded, police said.

"I was inside my home when there was a big explosion, our house was shaking and the windows shattered," said a man who gave his name as Abu Ahmed who lives next to the mall.

He saw several attackers carrying weapons heading towards the mall. "Dozens of women, men and children went out and some of them came to my house," he said, adding he heard a gun battle which continued into the night.

Iraqi state television showed smoke billowing from the building after security forces detonated additional bombs the attackers had left inside the complex.

Earlier, a health official said suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a nearby police intelligence headquarters, killing at least six people and wounding dozens more.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, but Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to al Qaeda have regularly used suicide attacks on targets linked to the Shi'ite-led government and security services since the start of 2013.

Areas around Kirkuk are strongholds of al Qaeda, according to security officials, in a region which both the central government and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan claim as theirs, making a coordinated police response difficult.

On Tuesday, 12 people were killed in two similar attacks in northern Iraq targeting a government complex and a police building.

Violence in Iraq has intensified alongside the conflict in neighboring Syria and is expected to escalate further before a parliamentary election in April next year.

(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Writing by Sylvia Westall, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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