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Churches Attacked In Iraq

A series of coordinated explosions rocked five churches across Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul on Sunday, killing at least ten people and injuring more than 40 others in the first attacks targeting the country's Christian minority in a violent 15-month insurgency.

Two explosions just minutes apart shook separate Baghdad churches in a largely Christian neighborhood during Sunday evening services, followed shortly by two more explosions at churches in other areas of the capital. A car bomb and grenade attack hit a church in Mosul at roughly the same time, Iraqi officials said.

Many of the country's Christians had become increasingly concerned about the rising Islamic fundamentalism here and some had fled to neighboring country's to wait until the security and political situation became more calm.

"What are the Muslims doing? Does this mean that they want us out?" asked Brother Louis, a deacon at the Our Lady of Salvation, as he cried outside the Assyrian Catholic church. "Those people who commit these awful criminal acts have nothing to do with God. They will go to hell."

In other developments:

  • Newsweek reports a commission investigating the Abu Ghraib prison abuse is expected to assign some responsibility to senior civilian officials at the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is expected to take heat for failing to provide adequate numbers of properly trained troops for detaining and interrogating captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, sources tell Newsweek. U.S. authorities released 128 prisoners from Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, bringing the total number of detainees released since January to 7,000.
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Sunday that any Muslim and Arab forces sent to Iraq must be a replacement of coalition troops there. Saud said Iraq must request such a force "with the full and clear support of the Iraqi people." He said this force would operate under the umbrella of the United Nations and "will replace the coalition troops currently in Iraq, and not be in addition to it." He added, "The troops from Arab and Muslim nations sent to Iraq will not be similar to the current troops. They don't come as invaders or occupiers. They will go there to help the Iraqi people," said Saud.
  • An al Qaeda-linked group gave Italy another 15 days to withdraw its troops from Iraq before sending "waves of earthquakes to erase your country," according to a statement sent to an Arabic newspaper Sunday. It was the fourth threat in two weeks against the key American ally. The statement, signed by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades and sent to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, followed the expiration of a three-month truce purportedly made in April by Osama bin Laden to European states. The statement urged the Italians to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist bombings in the United States and the bombs in Madrid last March.

    U.S. military officials in Baghdad's Karada neighborhood, where the first two churches were bombed, 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.

    The explosions in Baghdad killed one person and injured between 50 and 55 people, medical officials said. The blasts in Mosul killed one person and injured 11 others, said police Maj. Fawaz Fanaan.

    In Mosul, about 220 miles north of Baghdad, a car bomb blew up next to a Catholic church while worshippers were coming out of Mass, police Maj. Raed Abdel Basit said. Several rocket-propelled grenades were also launched at the church, Bowman said.

    The bomb, inside a white Toyota, blew up about 7 p.m. just yards from the church, said Ghaleb Wadeea, 50-year-old engineer who lives next door. Debris from the exploded car were scattered about the site, with some hanging off a nearby electricity pylon.

    A bridge in Mosul was also hit, Bowman said.

    Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said a total of four churches were hit in Baghdad, two in Karada, one in the Dora neighborhood and one in New Baghdad.

    At the site of the two blasts in Karada, Iraqi police and National Guard cordoned off the area. Firefighters and emergency workers were battling fires and helping the wounded.

    The first blast in Baghdad hit outside an Armenian church just 15 minutes into the evening service, witnesses said. The second blast hit the Assyrian Catholic church about 500 yards away.

    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 nine feet wide in the ground.

    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 and U.S. helicopter gunships circled above. 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. The majority of the Christians 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 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.

    In other violence:

  • Overnight clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents in Fallujah killed 12 Iraqis and wounded 39 others.
  • Northwest of Baghdad, insurgents detonated a bomb that wounded four U.S. troops, who shot dead one attacker, the military said Sunday.
  • In central Baghdad, guerrillas set off a roadside bomb Sunday that killed two civilians and wounded at least two others, said Fawad Allah, an officer at Karradah police station. A driver for the British Broadcasting Corp. received non-life-threatening wounds to the head, the BBC's Baghdad bureau chief said.
  • Earlier Sunday, a suicide car bomb attack outside a police station in the Mosul killed at least five people and injured 53 others, police said.
  • Two policemen were killed and three injured when their truck was attacked by insurgents in Haswa, 40 miles south of Baghdad on Saturday, police Lt. Ali Aubeid said.
  • A roadside bomb along a southern Baghdad highway killed one man Sunday and injured two others, said police Lt. Col Assad Ibrahim Hameed.
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