Published: 15:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 03 August 2011
Iraqi Christians targeted in coordinated church bomb attacks
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iraq
“It was a coordinated attack to target churches at the same time”Kirkuk Deputy Police Chief Major-Gen Torhan Abdulrahman
A blast outside a church injured 23 people as police foiled two further car bomb attacks on churches in northern Iraq on the same morning.
An Iraqi boy surveys the damage
to the bombed church in Kirkuk
A car bomb exploded near a church in Kirkuk at around 5.30am (2.30am GMT) on Tuesday (2 August), severely damaging the building and around 30 surrounding homes; nearby cars were also set on fire.
The church leader, Rev. Imad Yalda, was the only person inside the church at the time of the blast and was injured. A newborn baby was among the other 22 wounded; they were residents whose homes in the predominantly Christian and Turkmen neighbourhood of Shaterlo were hit. One Christian man, Mati Shaba, is in a serious condition.
Following the blast, police discovered vehicles packed with explosives outside two other churches in Kirkuk and defused the bombs.
Rev. Haithem Akram, the leader of one of the targeted churches, said,
The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail. We are staying in our country.
Iraqi Christians are said to be “sad and in shock” after the attacks, which happened two days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The coordinated attacks come just a month after the first church to be built in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion opened in Kirkuk. Hundreds of Christians gathered for its launch, heralding the new church as a defiant statement against violent attempts to drive them from their homeland. After that momentary celebration, their hopes and calls for peace have now once again been dashed.
Iraqi Christians have come under frequent attack since the 1990-91 Gulf War, when they were inadvertently associated with the Western invaders because of their faith. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
Violence against Christians in Iraq intensified with a hostage siege on a Baghdad church last October that left more than 50 people dead. Since then, Christians have been targeted and killed by militants in their homes and workplaces.
The latest bombings come as three people were sentenced to death, and another was given a 20 year prison term, for their part in the Baghdad church siege.