Al Qaeda militants hold hostages in Baghdad church

Sunday, October 31, 2010

BAGHDAD - Members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq were holding hostages inside a church in central Baghdad Sunday and threatened to kill them if security forces, who have surrounded the building, tried to enter.

“An armed attack targeted the Sayedat al-Najah Church in al-Karrada, central Baghdad,” Qassem Atta, spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command, told state-run Iraqiya TV. “Security forces are cordoning off the church and dealing with the situation,” he added.

Security forces managed to secure the release of 19 nuns from the Syrian Catholic church, but dozens more people were still believed to be inside, Iraqi Christian parliamentarian Yonadem Kana told DPA.

The militants were demanding the release of Al Qaeda members in Iraq and Egypt, Al-Baghdadiya TV reported.

It was not clear how many people were being held, but women and children were reportedly among the hostages.

Witnesses told DPA that the church was targeted during the Sunday service, adding that the sound of gunfire could be heard across al-Karrada.

“Churches used to be attacked in this neighbourhood, but not recently,” said one of the area’s residents. “We are not used to this anymore.”

An armed group of gunmen tried to raid nearby Baghdad Capital Market Sunday evening using stun bombs, Aswat al-Iraq news agency reported.

The market guards withstood the attack, and the gunmen withdrew in the direction of Sayedat al-Najah Church.

Sources at the Interior Ministry only confirmed that four people were injured earlier when two bombs went off consecutively outside the church. No further details were available.

Security officials said the Baghdad Capital Market had now been secured and was ready to resume business, al-Baghdadiya TV reported.

Iraq has seen increased violence in recent months, as the stalled process of government formation drags into its eighth month.

Iraqi Christians faced sectarian attacks and death threats after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The United Nations Human Rights Council estimates that around 50 percent of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country since then.

Filed under: Terrorism

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