11/01/2010, 00.00
IRAQ

Al Qaeda attack on Baghdad church ends in massacre

Terrorists detonate a car bomb and occupy the building. The security forces attack: initial death toll at least 55 deaths in raid against Al Qaeda cell among the faithful present at Mass in the church of Our Lady of Salvation. Seven soldiers and five terrorists killed.

Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Yet more blood shed of Iraqi Christians. At least 55 people were killed and 70 were injured in a massacre yesterday in the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, after Iraqi forces carried out a raid to free the faithful taken hostage by al-Qaeda. But the death toll could rise again because of the serious injuries sustained by the victims, Pascal Warda, a member of the 'Syrian Catholic community told the German agency DPA. According to local sources, there are two priests among the dead, one of whom was shot by a terrorist. Among the dead were also women and eight to ten children. The security chief of Baghdad, Qassem Atta, spoke of eight militants among the dead.

The church targeted by the command is Saiydat Nayat (Our Lady of Salvation), located in the centre of Baghdad. A blitz was carried out shortly after. The “operation ended was a success,'' Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Baghdad Operational Command told Reuters. The terrorists, who claimed to belong to the organization the Islamic State of Iraq, the Iraqi cell of al Qaeda, had threatened to kill the hostages if some members of the terror network of Osama bin Laden prisoners in Iraq and Egypt were not freed.

American military officials in Baghdad had previously spoken of a total death toll of 24, including at least ten hostages, seven officers and seven terrorists. The wounded were thirty, according to the source. Before the raid on the Catholic Eastern rite church, the terrorists - who wore vests packed with explosives - had detonated a car bomb killing at least six people. Among the victims is also a child, as revealed by Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop to the Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans. Two of the victims were agents guarding the nearby stock exchange, which according to some sources was the real target of the command. The terrorists, once inside the church called the local Baghdad TV.

A source said that the terrorist spoke with a classical Arabic and Iraqi dialect. During the security forces blitz, helicopters equipped with cameras constantly hovered over the church, along with five other Christian places of worship, already 'targeted in coordinated attacks by terrorists on August 1st of 2004. A federal police source said the terrorists demanded the release of some members of al Qaida in prison, including the widow of Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the former head of the Islamic State of Iraq, killed last April.

The Italian Foreign Ministry expressed ''strong condemnation'' of the terrorist assault also taking note ''of the timeliness' of the Iraqi security forces for the liberation of the hostages.''

The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, had called for ''a peaceful solution without further bloodshed”. Christians are in a '' situation of great insecurity and we express our solidarity with them'' he said. There are about 500 thousand Christians in Iraq out of a population of nearly 31 million.

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