Several hostages killed in Iraq church seizure

Sunday, October 31, 2010

BAGHDAD - Several hostages were dead Sunday after Iraqi forces stormed a Christian church where five militants had taken dozens of people hostage, Iraq’s Defence Minister Abdul-Qadir Mohammed Al-Obeidi said.

“A limited number of victims fell” when militants entered the church and some explosive devices went off, he said. He would not specify the number of hostages killed.

Five militants were also killed as Iraqi forces moved to end the seizure out of concern that a large number of detainees would be killed by the hostage-takers.

More than 50 hostages were believed to have been held during the crisis.

Earlier reports said four militants had been killed and that one of the hostages had also been killed in the process.

Members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq had entered the Sayedat al-Najah Church, a Syrian Catholic church in central Baghdad, as if they were civilians attending Sunday church services.

Shortly after they entered, a car they left behind exploded.

“We had a decision from the beginning to be there to storm the church because we could not wait as the terrorists were planning to kill a large number of the detainees. The operation was successful, all militants were killed and we detained some suspects,” al-Obeidi said.

The minister said that some of the militants are not believed to be Iraqis, and investigation will reveal their affiliations.

The militants were demanding the release of Al Qaeda members in Iraq and Egypt.

The minister said security received early information about the attack. “We were warned but there seems to be some sort of negligence, which we will investigate,” he added.

Before security stormed the church, Christian parliamentarian Yonadem Kana told DPA that forces managed to secure the release of 19 nuns.

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

“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.”

A 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.

Security officials said the Baghdad Capital Market had now been secured and was ready to resume business.

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

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

On Sunday morning, six people were killed and four injured in a car bomb attack in northern Baghdad, a police source said.

“A car parked in a garage near a police station exploded, killing six people, including policemen, and injuring four others,” the source said.

Filed under: Terrorism

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