Militants strike churches in Iraq

Washington Times, DC
Aug 2 2004

Militants strike churches in Iraq

By Betsy Pisik
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BAGHDAD – Muslim militants bombed Christians in Baghdad and the
northern city of Mosul yesterday, in near-simultaneous explosions
timed to coincide with Sunday services.
Eleven persons died and more than 40 were wounded in the attacks
on five churches in the two cities. It was the first major assault on
churches in Iraq since the 15-month-old insurgency began.

Hind Zakko and her father, Joseph, were listening to the Sunday
sermon at the Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad when they heard the
explosion rip through the old building and felt shards of stained
glass on their heads.
“It was horrible; it was so loud,” said Miss Zakko as she dabbed
blood from her father’s head, hands and neck, which had small cuts.
“Look at you,” she fussed. “Who would do this? Who would bomb a
church?”
Militants targeted four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul.
U.S. forces, Iraqi police and civilians also were attacked
yesterday.
Three roadside bombs nationwide killed four persons, including a
U.S. soldier, and wounded six, police said. A suicide car bombing
outside a police station in Mosul killed at least five persons and
injured 53.
The bloodshed came after a night of clashes between U.S. troops
and insurgents that killed 12 Iraqis and wounded 39 in Fallujah.
Because Sunday is a normal workday in Iraq, Sunday worship
services typically are held in the evening.
“It’s a new step down for the people who are doing this. Those
people inside were praying,” said Col. Mike Murray, commander of the
3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, which has primary
responsibility for patrolling Baghdad.
Behind him, two priests in black robes embraced near a ruined
Catholic church, one of them seemingly oblivious to the slash across
his cheek and blood staining his white collar.
U.S. surveillance helicopters took to the skies, as ambulances
crisscrossed the streets of the capital to get to hospitals.
Christians poured into the streets as the sun set, shocked that
anyone would target houses of worship.
“I don’t think we feel safe anymore,” said Samer Sabberi, a
17-year-old Christian who lives next to a graceful Armenian
cathedral. “My family didn’t talk about it, but now they have been.”
In Mosul, a car bomb blew up next to a Catholic church while
worshippers were coming out of Mass, police Maj. Raed Abdel Basit
told Reuters news agency. Several rocket-propelled grenades also were
launched at the church.
The church attacks did not appear to be suicide bombings, U.S.
military and Iraqi officials said.
Up to 1 million Christians are thought to be living in Iraq, most
of them in or around Baghdad.
Under Saddam Hussein, they were allowed to worship freely, and
there were no overt acts of hostility or aggression.
But Christians have been complaining of harassment for months.
Many have left for Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
There have been a series of attacks this summer on Baghdad’s
liquor stores and music shops, most of them owned by Christians.
Fundamentalist Muslim groups have warned owners of these
businesses to close operations.
“This [attack] isn’t against Muslims or Christians, this is
against Iraq,” Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi told the
Associated Press.
The Vatican called the attacks “terrible and worrisome,” said the
Rev. Ciro Benedettini, its spokesman.
Muslim clerics condemned the violence and offered condolences to
the Christian community.
“This is a cowardly act and targets all Iraqis,” Abdul Hadi
al-Daraji, spokesman for radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told
Al Jazeera television.

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