Blasts Rock Iraqi Churches
Blasts Rock Iraqi Churches
Sunday, August 01, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq A series of coordinated explosions rocked churches across Baghdad (search) and the northern city of Mosul on Sunday in the first attacks targeting the country's Christian minority during the 15-month violent insurgency here.
The explosions in Baghdad injured between 20 and 25 people, according to U.S. Col. Mike Murray. The blasts in Mosul (search) wounded four, according Capt. Angela Bowman, a U.S. military spokeswoman.
Two explosions just minutes apart shook separate Baghdad churches during Sunday evening services, and two other blasts struck outside a church in Mosul at roughly the same time, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military confirmed two other explosions in Baghdad on Sunday evening, but their targets were not immediately clear.
U.S. military officials in Baghdad's Karada neighborhood (search), where two bombed churches were located, said they found a third bomb in front another church that had not exploded. Karada is home to many of the city's Christians and many of its churches.
"We were in the Mass and suddenly we heard a big boom, and I couldn't feel my body anymore, I didn't feel anything," said Marwan Saqiq, who was covered in blood. "I saw people taking me out with the wood and glass shattered everywhere."
U.S. military officials said at least one and possibly both of the blasts appeared to have come from booby trapped cars.
In Mosul, a car bomb blew up next to Mark Bolus Church while worshippers were coming out of mass, police Maj. Raed Abdel Basit in Mosul said. Six cars were damaged, and parts of the church were burned. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Iraqi police and National Guard cordoned off the area. Fire engines and ambulances were seen racing to the scene.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said a second explosion in Mosul targeted the church and a third was aimed at a bridge.
The first blast in Baghdad hit outside an Armenian church just 15 minutes into the evening service, witnesses said. The second blast hit a Catholic church about yards away.
"There were at least 20 wounded, we transferred them to the hospital," said Qassem Mashkour Aziz, a hospital worker.
Stunned Iraqis ran away from the scene, holding their bleeding heads in their hands.
"I saw injured women and children and men, the church's glass shattered everywhere. There's glass all over the floor," said Juliette Agob, who was inside the Armenian church during the first explosion.
The back wall of the Catholic church, where a bomb had been placed, was badly damaged, with bricks scattered about, revealing the graves from a cemetery behind the building. The bomb left a hole 9 feet wide in the ground.
U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police patrolled the area as emergency workers raced to evacuate the wounded.
Three cars were in flames in front of the Armenian Church, colored glass was scattered across the ground. Four unexploded artillery shells were still visible inside the booby-trapped car.
Massive plumes of black smoke poured into the evening sky over the city. U.S. helicopter gunships circled above the scene. Fire fighters and residents struggled with water hoses to put out the flames, which leapt from the front of a tan colored church.
Relatives raced to search for loved ones.
One, Roni George, was sitting on the ground weeping after failing to find his father, mother and two brothers who were at Mass inside one of the churches during the blast.
Numbering some 750,000, the minority Christians were already concerned about the growing tide of Islamic fundamentalism, so long repressed under Saddam Hussein. Of the Iraqi Christians, the majority are Chaldean Roman Catholic, the rest Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Assyrian. Most live in Baghdad and its outskirts and some dwell further to the north.
Islamic radicals have warned Christians running liquor stores to shut down their businesses, and have turned their sights on fashion clothing stores and beauty salons. The increasing attention on this minority community has many within looking for a way out. Many are in neighboring Jordan and Syria waiting for the security situation to settle, while others have applied to leave the country.