At least 11 Killed in Iraq Church Explosions Blamed on Al Qaeda

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Government to hold emergency meeting
By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- At least 11 people have died and dozens were rushed to hospitals following the largest ever terrorist attacks against Iraq's minority Christians since the insurgency began, 15 months ago, reports said early Monday, August 2.

The death toll was far worse than the initial estimates of 20 injured Christians after the explosions outside five churches in Baghdad and Mosul during Sunday evening services.

Reuters news agency quoted Iraq's security adviser as saying that a key al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was responsible for the blasts, adding to fresh fears among Iraq's roughly 750,000 Christians that they may be targeted by Islamic extremists.

"There is no shadow of a doubt that this bears the blueprint of Zarqawi," Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told Reuters on Monday, adding the attacks on Sunday evening were an attempt to drive Iraq's minority Christians out of the country. "Zarqawi and his extremists are basically trying to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians in Iraq."


Rubaie said Iraq's National Security Council would hold an emergency meeting on Monday, August 2, to discuss the blasts. Militants have accused Christians of supporting the United States-led coalition forces, and since last year several believers working for the American military were assassinated.

In addition Islamic radicals have killed Christians running liquor stores and warned others to shut down their businesses, ASSIST News Service (ANS) learned previously in Baghdad. They have also targeted fashion stores and beauty salons, news reports say.

"What are the Muslims doing? Does this mean that they want us out?" Brother Louis, a deacon at Our Lady of Salvation, asked reporters as he cried outside the damaged Assyrian Catholic church. "Those people who commit these awful criminal acts have nothing to do with God. They will go to hell," he told The Associated Press (AP).

Human rights workers have already said that thousands of Christians are fleeing Iraq. The explosions in Baghdad came just minutes apart and hit four churches two in Karada, one in the southern Dora neighborhood and one in New Baghdad, killing 10 people and injuring more than 40 others, U.S. military officials said.


AP quoted police Maj. Fawaz Fanaan as saying that one person was killed in another, fifth church blast, in Mosul about 220 miles (352 kilometers) north of the capital. Mosul is seen as a symbol for Iraq's Christians, who are mainly ethnic Assyrians speaking the language Jesus spoke. The town was built near the ruins of Nineveh, where the Bible says Prophet Jonah brought the message of repentance.

The Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM), a Christian human rights group, said the attack came just a month after one Christian was injured when a grenade was thrown at a church in Mosul. VOM added that the most deadly attack was against a Chaldean church in the Doura district where, reportedly, at least eight people were killed.

The explosions came as a shock for worshippers in Baghdad. "We were in Mass and suddenly we heard a big boom, and I couldn't feel my body anymore. I didn't feel anything," said Marwan Saqiq who was covered in blood after the attack on Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad's heavily Christian Karada neighborhood, reported AP. "I saw people taking me out with the wood and glass shattered everywhere."


The first blast in Karada hit an Armenian church after 6 p.m., just 15 minutes into the evening service, another witnesses said. The second blast a few minutes later hit the Roman Catholic church about 500 yards away, news reports said. "I saw injured women and children and men, the church's glass shattered everywhere," said Juliette Agob, in an interview with AP, who was inside the Armenian church during the first explosion.

Iraqi police discovered a sixth bomb, consisting of 15 mortar rounds, outside a Baghdad church, and authorities disarmed it, the U.S. military said in a statement. The attacks did not appear to be suicide bombings, U.S. military and Iraqi officials claimed.

The Vatican has called the attacks "terrible and worrisome," while Muslim clerics condemned the violence and offered condolences to the Christian community.


VOM, which has close ties to persecuted Christians in the region, urged its mainly born-again Christian supporters to "pray for those injured and the families of those killed." It also said it was crucial to "pray that these types of attacks will not escalate in Iraq" and to pray that Christians will "experience peace in the midst of this terrible storm" and that "Iraq will soon find the peace for which the majority of people are

However the latest attacks have raised new questions about the apparent inability of the new interim government to deal with the security crisis in the troubled nation.

Separate violence beginning the night before, killed 24, including an American soldier, and wounded 101. The toll included a suicide car bombing outside a Mosul police station that killed five people and wounded 53, and clashes in Fallujah between U.S. troops and insurgents that killed 12 Iraqis and wounded 39 others, news reports said.

Yet Iraqi pastor Ghassan Thomas told ANS earlier that violence is not necessarily bad news for spiritual growth in the country. "This is the best time. People are hungry for Christ, they need Christ now," he said in his Evangelical Alliance Church where hundreds of people were attending meetings in a rented church building in Baghdad.