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    Church Bloodbath: Dozens Killed in Attack in Baghdad

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    Arik
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    Church Bloodbath: Dozens Killed in Attack in Baghdad

    Post  Arik on Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:31 am

    (Nov. 1) -- Iraqi soldiers stormed a Catholic church where an entire congregation was held hostage by militants, sparking gun battles and explosions in which 52 people, including a priest, were killed. An al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for the siege.

    About 100 people were inside the Our Lady of Deliverance church for a Sunday evening mass in Baghdad's mixed Karada neighborhood. The area has long been a hub of Iraqi Catholics, who used to make up nearly 3 percent of Iraq's population but have fled the country in droves since the 2003 U.S. invasion and sectarian warfare.

    Sayidat al-Najat church, iraq hostage,
    Khalil Al-Murshidi, AFP / Getty Images
    Iraqi security forces and well-wishers surround an Iraqi youth after his release from a hostage situation at the Sayidat al-Najat church in Baghdad. Dozens of people were killed after a rescue operation by Iraqi and U.S. forces on Sunday.
    The violence began Sunday when militants stormed the Baghdad stock exchange in the same neighborhood, killing two security guards and detonating two bombs before moving on to the church, VOA News reported. Worshippers were held hostage for at least four hours until Iraqi anti-terrorism forces barged in, trying to free them.

    It's unclear whether most of the deaths were caused by gunfire from either side, or by militants blowing themselves up once they knew they were cornered. Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal told the BBC that at least 52 people died, including six attackers.

    At a prayer for All Saints' Day at the Vatican today, Pope Benedict condemned the Baghdad attack. "I pray for the victims of this senseless violence, made even more ferocious because it struck defenseless people who were gathered in the house of God, which is a house of love and reconciliation," he said, according to Reuters.

    An Iraqi TV network, al-Baghdadiya, reported that it received a phone call from someone claiming to be one of the attackers on his mobile phone inside the church. The caller said the group was from the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Muslim extremist factions to which al-Qaida in Iraq belongs. The ISI also posted a statement on an Islamic website claiming responsibility for the siege, calling the church a "nest of polytheism," Xinhua and other news agencies reported.

    "All the marks point out that this incident carries the fingerprints of al-Qaida," Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi said on state television, according to CNN. The dead were a mix of hostages, Iraqi soldiers and militants, and more than 50 other people were wounded, it said. Another eight kidnappers survived the fight and were arrested.

    During the siege, the gunmen demanded the release of al-Qaida prisoners in Iraqi custody, as well as female prisoners they said were being held by Christian churches in Egypt. Iraqi military forces surrounded the church and demanded the hostages' release, threatening to free them by force. Several hours went by.

    "Then all hell broke loose," Martin Chulov, a reporter for London's Guardian, told CNN. Iraqi forces stormed the church, gun battles erupted and three or four large explosions rang out, he said. Twenty ambulances could later be seen racing away from the scene.

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    "It's a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible," police officer Hussain Nahidh told The New York Times. "You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to the hospitals without legs and hands."

    Iraq's defense minister defended his decision to send soldiers into the church, telling the Times it was "a successful operation with a minimum of casualties, and killing all the terrorists." But Obeidi also acknowledged that it "seems like there was negligence by the security forces, which we will investigate later."

    Our Lady of Deliverance, one of Baghdad's largest Catholic churches, had been restored after a bombing in 2004. Earlier this year, it was surrounded by barbed wire and stepped-up security as a caution against retaliatory attacks on Christians after a Florida preacher threatened to burn Korans.

    I think that last section is interesting and goes to show how people can fan flames by doing stupid things.

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