08/02/2011, 00.00
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Christians “sad and in shock,” Mgr Sako says after car bomb explodes at Kirkuk church, wounding 15

The bomb causes major damages to Syro-Catholic church. Children and clergymen are among the wounded. A second car bomb set to go off near an Evangelical church is defused. A “sacred place” and “innocent people” were targeted, Kirkuk archbishop says.
Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – Iraq’s Christians are “sad and in shock” because attackers targeted a “sacred place” and “innocent people”, said Mgr Louis Sako. The archbishop of Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq, spoke to AsiaNews about the latest outrage against the country’s Christian community two days into Ramadan. Since the start of the Muslim holy month, attacks have been on the rise. This morning, a car bomb exploded near the Holy Family Syro-Catholic Church at about 5:30 am (0230 GMT), wounding 15 people. Some 30 homes were also damaged. A second bomb was also found.

According to local sources, Mati Shaba, a Christian man, is among the wounded, and is in serious conditions. Fr Imad Yelda, one of the church’s clergymen, was slightly injured. A 20-day-old baby and residents from the predominantly Christian and Turkmen neighbourhood of Shaterlo in northern Kirkuk were also hurt.

Fr Imad Hanna, who was also injured in the attack, said, “It is the first time that this church is the object of a terrorist attack.” The blast damaged the doors and inside the building (pictured), as well as cars and other buildings around the area.

This morning, Mgr Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk, visited the wounded in hospital. Many of them have already been released and gone home.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate said that “Christians are sad and in shock” because “a sacred place” and “innocent people” were targeted. “Many cars caught fire” and there was widespread damage in the area, he added.

According to the archbishop, the attack has caused a great deal of sorrow because it occurred “at a holy time of fasting and prayer, [a time] of conversion.”

“We are shocked,” he explained, “because Christians play no role in the political games” of the city, its centres of power and economic interests. “We are always for what is good, for dialogue, and we have good relations with everyone.”

With a population of 900,000, Kirkuk is at the centre of an ethnic-political struggle between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds. The latter would like to see the city annexed to Kurdistan, whilst Arabs and Turkmen want it to remain linked to Iraq’s central government.

Local sources said that a second bomb was found in a car parked near a Presbyterian Evangelical church at al Mass, in central Kirkuk. The bomb was ready to explode but was defused.

Today’s bombs come a month after the opening of the first church built since the US invasion of 2003 (see Joseph Mahmoud, “New ‘Three Fountains Church’ near Kirkuk, a sign of hope,” in AsiaNews, 8 July 2011). (DS)
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