Pope deplores Baghdad church bloodbath

November 2nd, 2010 - 12:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Rome, Nov 2 (IANS/AKI) Pope Benedict XVI Monday called for an end to the “absurd and ferocious violence against Christians in Iraq”.

He was speaking after more than 50 people died in an attack on a Catholic church in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. An Al Qaeda linked group claimed the attack in a message posted to a militant website.

Addressing a crowd in driving rain from the windows of his apartments in Rome’s St Peter’s Square, the pontiff said: “Last night, in a very serious attack on the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, dozens of people were killed and wounded, including two priests and a group of faithful gathered for Sunday Mass.”

Around 100 worshippers had been gathered inside the Our Lady of Salvation church for an evening mass when they were taken hostage by gunmen reportedly demanding the release of jailed Al Qaeda militants.

Eyewitnesses said the gunmen immediately killed a priest. A gun battle broke out when Iraqi security forces stormed the church and gunmen reportedly threw grenades and detonated suicide vests.

At least 52 people in including six attackers were killed in the standoff, according to Iraq’s interior ministry.

The number of wounded people were put at between 56 and 62, many of them women.

“I pray for the victims of this absurd violence, all the more ferocious as it affected defenceless civilians,” said the pope.

“As the people of the Middle East region continue to be torn apart by savage episodes of violence, I renew my call for peace,” the pontiff stated, urging international institutions to act.

Many Christian churches have been bombed in recent years - including Our Lady of Salvation in August 2004 - and priests have been kidnapped and killed, but Sunday’s standoff was the first mass hostage situation.

Iraqi Christians would be “exterminated” if Al Qaeda prisoners and several Muslim women allegedly being held prisoner by Egypt’s Coptic Church were not freed, according to the message posted by the Islamic State of Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq is a Sunni militant umbrella group to which Al Qaeda in Iraqs.

Around half a million Christians from ancient denominations remain in Iraq. Iraqi Christians have been leaving the country in droves since the US-led invasion in 2003.

–IANS/AKI
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