All Middle-Eastern Christians a target, says Iraqi al-Qaeda

by
04 November 2010

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

THE terrorist group claiming responsibility for a hostage-taking that led to 52 deaths in a Baghdad church last Sunday evening an­nounced on Wednesday that it now saw all Christians in the Middle East as “legitimate targets”.

The al-Qaeda-backed group, Is­lamic State of Iraq, had set a Wednesday deadline for the Coptic Church in Egypt to disclose the status of alleged Muslim female converts who, the group said, were being held captive in monasteries.

The announcement came after the deadline had expired, news agencies reported. The Christian minority in Iraq was already in a state of shock and fear. Police sources in Egypt told CNN on Wednesday that security had been reinforced at churches in the country, and that additional protec­tion was being given to the Coptic leader Pope Shenouda III.

The group’s message said that all Christian “centres, organisations, and bodies” had become legitimate targets for the mujahadeen (holy warriors). AFP reported that the statement said: “Let these idolaters, and at their forefront, the hallucinating tryant of the Vatican, know that the killing sword will not be lifted from the necks of their followers until they declare their innocence from what the dog of the Egyptian Church is doing.”

Nine suicide bombers stormed in during a service at the Sayyidat al-Najat (Lady of our Salvation) Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, and held the congregation hostage last Sunday. Most of the deaths occurred when Iraqi security forces intervened to end the siege. Many more were injured in the gun-battle. Islamic State of Iraq said that it had carried out the attack on “the dirty den of idolatry”.

Among the dead were two priests, buried on Tuesday. The BBC’s Iraq corres­pondent, Jim Muir, speaking after the funerals, told the Church Times that “the Christian commun­ities here are clearly traumatised by what is by far the worst single disaster to befall them in recent times. At the same time, I think they are comforted by the support and sympathy that has rallied to them from people across the spectrum here.”

Mr Muir said that “in addition to the Christian congregations, there was a large presence of religious and party leaders from all communities. It was a very moving event which gave a real sense of national occasion in which all shared the grief and sense of outrage.”

The incident was widely con­demned. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, called the attack a “crime of terrorism aimed at destabilising security and stability and creating chaos and driving Iraqis from their homeland”. The Human-Rights Minister, Wijdan Michael, a Christian, said that he believed that the terrorists wanted to “empty Iraq of Christians”. The Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned “the criminal action against our Christian brothers”.

The Anglican Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, said that the attack on the church had “shocked people of good will and compassion throughout the world”. He asked people to pray for the Christian community in Iraq and to “intercede for those who worship at our own St George’s, as well as the congregations of the other mainline historic churches”.

Canon Andrew White, Chaplain of St George’s, Baghdad, who was in London at the time of the attack, described last Sunday as “a terrible day for the Church in Baghdad”. He said that, while there had been intelligence warnings of possible attacks on churches, “prior warning is no remedy for loss and heartache.” Security at St George’s has been increased.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that “the slaughter of unarmed people gathered in church to worship God is a shocking and disgraceful act that will be utterly condemned by people of all faiths and none.”

Pope Benedict XVI said that he was praying for the victims of “this senseless violence, made even more ferocious because it struck defence­less people who were gathered in the house of God”.

While the attack on the Baghdad church was the worst single incident targeting Christians, it comes against a background of continuing violence and political crisis. Shortly after the funerals of those killed in the church, a series of co-ordinated suicide car-bombings, mostly in Shiite areas of the capital, resulted in more than 60 deaths.

Close links: Canon Andrew White, Chaplain of St George’s, Baghdad, said that three members of his congregation, two men and a woman, had been killed in Sunday’s incident at the Syrian Catholic church, writes Ed Beavan.

Close links: Canon Andrew White, Chaplain of St George’s, Baghdad, said that three members of his congregation, two men and a woman, had been killed in Sunday’s incident at the Syrian Catholic church, writes Ed Beavan.

“We work together with the church the whole time; it’s about a mile-and-a-half away,” he said.

“We work together with the church the whole time; it’s about a mile-and-a-half away,” he said.

He had heard from members of his congregation that the worst violence took place when the Iraqi army stormed the church. “One of the young people said they saw a child running out of the church saying ‘They killed my daddy.’ It’s so very, very difficult, but we’ve got to just try and carry on. People will be scared to go out, to come to church, but we won’t give up.”

He had heard from members of his congregation that the worst violence took place when the Iraqi army stormed the church. “One of the young people said they saw a child running out of the church saying ‘They killed my daddy.’ It’s so very, very difficult, but we’ve got to just try and carry on. People will be scared to go out, to come to church, but we won’t give up.”

Canon White was in the UK this week after returning from New York, where he had received the International Civil Courage Prize. He was due to return to Baghdad yesterday.

Copts ‘trust Egypt to protect them’

Canon White was in the UK this week after returning from New York, where he had received the International Civil Courage Prize. He was due to return to Baghdad yesterday.

Copts ‘trust Egypt to protect them’

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