Blasts Target Christian Churches in 2 Iraqi Cities
Attacks During Services Kill 11 in Baghdad, Mosul
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 2, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, Aug. 2 -- Car bombs exploded outside five Christian churches in two Iraqi cities during Sunday evening services in coordinated attacks that sent terrified and bleeding worshipers fleeing into the streets as stained-glass windows shattered and flames engulfed the buildings.
Eleven people were killed and 47 injured in the assaults, the first such large-scale violence against minority Christians, who have long coexisted peacefully with Iraqi Muslims.
The blasts struck four churches in Baghdad and one in the northern city of Mosul within 30 minutes as night fell. Black smoke billowed into the air over the darkening capital. Ambulances ferried victims to hospitals and firefighters hosed flaming buildings and cars, while police fired into the air and U.S. troops tried to maintain order as people milled angrily in the affected neighborhoods.
In a statement Monday, the U.S. military said 10 people were killed and 40 injured in the Baghdad bombings.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, condemned the bombings, saying, "It is terrible and worrying because it is the first time that Christian churches are being targeted in Iraq." He told the Reuters news agency that the blasts seemed to be an "attempt to heighten tensions by trying to affect all social groups, including churches."
"We were lining up for communion, the holiest moment in the Mass. Suddenly the explosion happened, and glass rained down from the windows," said a weeping, middle-aged woman at the bedside of her wounded mother in Ibn-Nafees Hospital. "Those who did this are without religion," added the woman, who did not want to give her name. "This is not Muslims. Muslims don't do this to their brothers."
Witnesses and victims from three of the bombed churches in Baghdad expressed similar sentiments, blaming the attacks on extremists seeking to sow division between Christians and majority Muslims.
"This is God's house. Those who did this may think they will go to heaven, but they will go to hell," said Reemon Merghi, 24, a Christian who witnessed the blast at an Armenian church from his apartment nearby. "Maybe they think they are going to make Muslims and Christians fight each other, but we are like one family living in one house."
The first bomb in Baghdad exploded about 6:30 p.m. outside an Armenian Catholic church in the Karrada district, shortly after evening Mass had begun. As people poured outside in panic and police and rescue crews raced to the scene, a second blast occurred about 20 minutes later outside an Assyrian Catholic church, Lady of Salvation, about a half-mile away.
Minutes later, two more bombs exploded next to a Chaldean Christian church in the Doura neighborhood in southwest Baghdad and outside a fourth church, Father Ilyas, in the New Baghdad district.
Iraqi police and the U.S. military said all the blasts appeared to have come from booby-trapped cars and were not suicide bombs.
Police found another bomb at a fifth church in Baghdad and diffused it, the U.S. military said.
In Mosul, about 220 miles north of the capital, officials said a car bomb exploded next to the Mar Polis Church, a Catholic congregation, as worshipers were leaving evening Mass. The blast damaged the building and five cars. The officials said rocket-propelled grenades were also fired at the church. The U.S. military reported that one person was killed and seven injured in the attack.
Before Sunday's bombings, there had been a number of bomb attacks against Christian-owned shops that sell alcohol in Baghdad and other cities, but none against Christian places of worship. In January, a minibus carrying a group of Iraqi Christian women to work at a U.S. military base west of Baghdad was followed and attacked by gunmen, who killed several of the passengers.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company