(Photo: Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, November 1, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)
Fifty-two hostages and police officers were killed when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics held by al Qaeda-linked gunmen, a deputy interior minister said on Monday.
Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal said 67 people were also wounded in the raid on the Syrian Catholic church, which was seized by guerrillas during Sunday mass in the bloodiest attack in Iraq since August. The death toll was many times higher than that given overnight in the hours after the raid.
(Photo: Bomb damage outside Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad November 1, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)
The gunmen took hostages at the Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, one of Baghdad’s largest, and demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt. “This death toll is for civilians and security force members. We don’t differentiate between police and civilians. They are all Iraqis,” Kamal said, adding the number did not include dead attackers.
Iraq’s Christian minority has frequently been targeted by militants, with churches bombed and priests assassinated. Iraq has about 850,000 Christians (around 3% of the population), of which 400,000 are Catholics, mostly of the Chaldean and Syrian churches in full communion with Rome. Many Christians have fled the country or have been displaced internally since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
(Photo: Residents outside Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad November 1, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)
Officials said the attackers threatened to kill the 120 hostages unless al Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt were freed.