updated 10/14/2007 11:54:45 AM ET 2007-10-14T15:54:45

A car bomb exploded in Baghdad on Sunday next to a parked minibus waiting for worshippers to board and travel to a Shiite shrine in the Iraqi capital, a police officer said. The blast killed nine people, including two boys, 9 and 14 years old.

After the blast, police banned cars from the area surrounding the shrine in the Kazimiyah district until further notice, the officer said.

Earlier Sunday, police found a parked booby-trapped minibus in the same area and detonated it without casualties, added the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release the information.

Separately, police on Sunday reported that a suicide truck bomber followed by dozens of gunmen in a swarm of vehicles launched a coordinated attack on a regional police station north of Baghdad, killing eight Iraqi civilians.

Police fatally shot the suicide bomber but his explosives-laden fuel tanker blew up near police headquarters in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing the eight and wounding four other civilians in the late Saturday attack.

Immediately after the blast, about 20 vehicles with at least 60 gunmen drove up to the site and fought with police, said a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

At least three police officers were wounded in the ensuing fighting, which ended after U.S. military helicopters flew overhead.

Other attacks believed to be al-Qaida's work
In other violence Sunday, an Iraqi soldier was killed and four others were wounded when a roadside bomb targeted their patrol in Khan Bani Saad, just northeast of Baghdad in the volatile Diyala province. Near the southern town of Hilla, a police officer was fatally shot by gunmen in a speeding car.

Although no one claimed responsibility for the attacks Sunday and Saturday, they bore the hallmarks of the al-Qaida terror network.

Samarra lies in the heartland of the Sunni-led al-Qaida insurgency in Iraq and was the scene of the Feb. 2006 bombing that destroyed the golden dome of a famous Shiite shrine there. That bombing set in motion relentless bloodletting along the sectarian fault line that has threatened to divide the country.

Pope Benedict XVI appealed on Sunday for the release of two Catholic priests kidnapped a day earlier on their way home from a funeral in northern Iraq.

The priests were abducted Saturday afternoon after a funeral in western Mosul, about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, according to Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, Mosul's head of the Syrian Catholic Church, one of the branches of the Roman Catholic Church.

Casmoussa himself was kidnapped in January 2005 and released a day later without ransom after the abductors realized his identity.

Benedict asked the kidnappers to "let the two religious men go" during his traditional Sunday blessing to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The Christian community in Iraq is about 3 percent of the country's 26 million people.

In Saddam-era Iraq, the country's estimated 800,000 Christians were generally left alone, but after U.S. forces toppled the regime and sectarian clashes broke out, their situation grew more precarious.

In the summer of 2004, insurgents launched a coordinated bombing campaign against Baghdad churches. A second wave of anti-Christian attacks hit in September 2006 after Benedict made comments perceived to be anti-Muslim. Church bombings spiked and a priest, also in Mosul, was kidnapped and later found beheaded.

Many churches are now nearly empty, with their faithful either gone or too fearful to attend.

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