2010 Baghdad church massacre
|2010 Baghdad church attack|
|Date||31 October 2010
17:00 – ~21:30 (UTC+4)
|Target||Iraq Stock Exchange, Sayedat al-Najat cathedral|
|Raid and hostage situation|
|Perpetrators||Islamic State of Iraq|
The 2010 Baghdad church attack was an attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic cathedral of Baghdad, Iraq, that took place during Sunday evening Mass on 31 October 2010. The attack left at least 58 people dead, after more than 100 had been taken hostage. The al-Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgent group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack; while Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Shia groups, and Iraq's highest Catholic cleric condemned the attack, amongst others.
Prior to the occupation of Iraq, the country was described as a "mélange of beliefs, customs and traditions." After the war, however, sectarian strife took over, with many killings of Sunnis and Shias, as well as Christians, although none, according to The New York Times, elicited as much outrage as this attack. It also reported that Iraq is now "defined more by war, occupation and deprivation. Identities have hardened; diversity has faded." This was the deadliest attack on a Christian target since the war began. Despite a pre-war population of 5%, Christians made up 40% of Iraq's post-war refugees.
Additionally, a government had not been formed in the more than 6 months since the 2010 election, which has caused concern for stability in the political vacuum. Another reason for the perilous situation was seen as the American withdrawal following a Status of Forces Agreement. As a consequence, a "religious fervor" was being directed at Iraqis of different faiths, mostly by Sunni forces. The US war in Afghanistan was also seen as debilitating since the US would not be able to lend as much support.
The church is named in honour of Our Lady of Deliverance or Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Nejat). It was also one of six churches attacked in August 2004 (bombs exploded at five, including Our Lady of Deliverance – at the sixth, the bomb was disarmed).
Between six and fifteen gunmen began the attack by killing 2 armed guards in front of the Iraq Stock Exchange with a loud explosion and bursts of gunfire. The attackers then moved across the street to the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church,[nb 1][nb 2]  which is in the Karrada neighbourhood. At the church, they took its construction and cleaning crew hostage. They also took more than 100 worshippers hostage.
One witness said that when attackers came into the church they closed the door and started to shoot at the lights, the fixtures, the crucifix, the Madonna and over the Sunday service worshippers. An eyewitness said the attackers shouted at them saying "All of you are infidels. We are here to avenge the burning of the Qur'ans and the jailing of Muslim women in Egypt." Two hours after the raid, police arrived on the scene and cordoned off streets in the neighbourhood, after which a standoff ensued.
Abdullah Hermiz, the head of Christian Endowment, a state organisation that oversees Iraq's churches, said a part of the building was under construction and so Sunday Mass was being held in a different part of the church as was usual. He also said the worshippers were "about to leave and heard the shooting outside and because of the scary situation, some ran outside the church while others remained inside". The US military suspected the attackers were al-Qaeda operatives because of their "tactics, techniques and procedures".
An official from the church said "The men who carried out the attack were very organised – The way they entered...how well prepared and armed with machine guns, explosive belts, and everything they could need...How they quickly closed the doors and shut in the faithful. Then the security forces came."
Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Bloom of the US Army said that of the 100 people in the church, 19 managed to escape before Iraqi Special Forces stormed the church at 21:00. He said the raid was a "robbery gone wrong. We've seen them resort to robbery to get financed. It has been very challenging for them to get outside financing, so they are resorting to small, petty crimes to try to finance themselves. During the rescue the lights went out, when Iraqi forces entered the building. They then shouted to parishioners: "We will save you." Iraq's defense minister said a decision was made to carry out a "land offensive, and in addition an airdrop, because it was impossible to wait." The rescue was backed by American aerial support.
Both Iraqi officials and the US military praised the rescue.
During the 4-hour siege, at least 41 of the dead were hostages, including 2 priests, while the others included 12 policemen, 5 bystanders, and the gunmen. Another 78 people were wounded. Three priests, Fathers Saad Abdallah Tha'ir, Waseem Tabeeh and Raphael Qatin, were at first reported killed, but Father Qatin, although seriously wounded, later recovered in a Baghdad hospital.
Abdul Qader al-Obeidi, Iraq's defence minister, said one of the attackers' phone calls were "fully intercepted" and he believed they were not Iraqis because they spoke classical Arabic "perhaps in an attempt to conceal his identity". Al-Baghdadiya television said it received a phone call from one of the attackers and that he demanded the release of all al-Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt. They also alleged that female Muslims were being held against their will in Coptic monasteries in Egypt. al-Obeidi said other suspects had been arrested."
Hussain Nahidh, a police officer, reported that the suicide vests brought in by the attackers were filled with ball bearings, designed to kill as many people as possible. Many people went to the hospitals "without legs and hands."
A security spokesman in Baghdad, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, said the attackers were dressed like guards working for a private security firm and also had fake IDs. He said that an investigation was under way, and anyone held to be negligent or complicit would be "strictly accountable." One of the queries into the attack was "how such a large number of terrorists managed to reach the church in the heart of Baghdad." The commander of police in the district was also detained.
On 2 February 2012, three men who were convicted in the court case were executed and a fourth man was given a 20-year sentence.
According to the SITE Institute, Al-Qaida's the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack. The group's claim of responsibility also called the church "the dirty den of idolatry", while giving the "church of Egypt, the head of infidels, 48 hours to make clear the condition of our sisters in Islam detained in the monasteries and announce their release in the media". It also said "Let these idolaters, and at their forefront, the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican, know that the killing sword will not be lifted from the necks of their followers until they declare their innocence from what the dog of the Egyptian Church is doing," in regards to calls for the Egyptian Coptic Church to release two wives of priests that were detained after they allegedly converted to Islam. It added that the fuse of a campaign against Iraqi Christians had been lit.
The Islamic State of Iraq said its deadline had expired for Egypt's Coptic Church to free women "hostages", and that Christians were thus "legitimate targets. All Christian centers, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen wherever they can reach them."
- Iraq – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the attack was an "attempt to reignite sectarian strife in Iraq and to drive more Christians out of the country." The Kurdistan Regional Government condemned the attack in a statement saying "We strongly condemn this terrorist attack on our Christian brethren in Baghdad. We send our condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery for the wounded."
- Iraq's top Catholic prelate, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, encouraged an already dwindled Christian population of 1.5 million not to leave, while he also condemned the attack as "We have never seen anything like it, militants attacking God's house with worshippers." Monsignor Eyos Qasho, a church official said, "If the sons of this country cannot live in peace then the situation is clearly unacceptable. Had we been provided with adequate security, this would not have happened." Chaldean Bishop Shlimon Warduni said "This is tragic for Christians and for all of Iraq. If we had a government and laws and people all over the world to help us it would be much better." The church congregation held funerals for the dead two days later, while at the same time a string of bombings in Baghdad killed over 100 in mostly Shia areas.
- Father Douglas Yousef al-Bazy, who worked with the priests killed in the attack said that, while he was also stopped at a roadblock as he sought to get to the church after hearing explosions, the attack was "really terrible. The people who did this want to kill the church – the priests who served them and the people and even the building. We lost our best friends there. When someone dies we say there is a reason, but actually when they are killed – when they kill young people, young priests they are trying to kill our future. Those who say we are safe, that we can live peacefully in Iraq, they are liars. But we will stay in this country because still there are Christian people here and we still have a mission here."
- Najaf-based Grand Shiite Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani strongly condemned the attacks. He also further advised Iraqi security forces to take more responsibility for the protection of Iraqi citizens. During Friday prayers on the same week, all mosques in Kirkuk condemned the "barbaric attack," while the mayor and the sheikh of the Arab, Kurd and Turkmen tribes also expressed condolences and solidarity with the Chaldean archbishop. Sunni and Shia imams also condemned the attack in solidarity with Archbishop Louis Sako. They called for the preservation of "the Iraqi mosaic" of various ethnic groups and religions, one imam also called for Muslims to protect Christians "and launched an appeal for all the Iraqis do not succumb to fear and do not leave their country."
- The network that broadcast the attackers' message, Al-Baghdadia, was taken off the air after a government raid following the attack.
- France – A day after the attack France said it would accept 150 Iraqis, with priority given to the wounded in the attack. A diplomat said the wounded would be evacuated on an hospital plane and taken to various hospitals in France.
- Egypt – The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood then called for churches to be protected.
- Iran – Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast offered condolences to the Iraqi people and government and said: "The incident was a measure for return of terrorism and violence to Iraq and affecting the political process of government formation." A few days later a meeting of the Majlis also generally criticised "some regional and foreign" players for destabilising Iraq.
- Holy See – Pope Benedict XVI condemned the "senseless violence, made more ferocious because it was directed against unarmed people gathered in the house of God, which is a house of love and reconciliation" and he called for renewed international efforts at brokering peace in the region. He also sent a telegram of condolence to Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka of the Syro-Catholics: "Deeply shocked by the violent death of so many faithful and of Fathers Tha'ir Saad and Boutros Wasim, I desire, on this occasion of the Sacred Rite of the funerals, to be spiritually present...For many years, this beloved country has suffered unspeakable hardship and Christians have also become an object of heinous attacks with total lack of respect for life, the inviolable gift of God, desiring to undermine trust and civil coexistence. I renew my Appeal so that the sacrifice of these brothers and sisters of ours may be a seed of peace and true rebirth, and because many have reconciliation at heart, brotherly and supportive coexistence."
- Russia – Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Moscow presents profound condolences over the death of innocent civilians and Iraqi policemen. We strongly condemn the crime of terrorists and the attacks on freedom and life of believers of any religion."
- United Kingdom – Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, the leader of the Syriac Orthodox church in the United Kingdom, said all Christians should leave Iraq in the wake of the attack, "I say clearly and now – the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing. This is better than having them killed one by one."
- United States – White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said: "The United States strongly condemns this senseless act of hostage taking and violence by terrorists linked to al Qaeda in Iraq that occurred Sunday in Baghdad killing so many innocent Iraqis." U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo and Frank Wolf, co-chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, and seven other representatives, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive policy for the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq. They also offered condolences to the victims and their families.
- Martin Manna, the executive director of the Michigan-based Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, responded to the attack saying: "Our community's just so frustrated more than anything else. Security is just terrible. The Iraqi government...can't protect their people."
Black march protests
The protests were dubbed "the black march" because the participants wore black as they marched through streets in protest of the massacre. Thousands of Assyrians, other Christians, Jews and Muslims joined the series of protests in more than 30 countries, most notably Australia, Canada, Netherlands and England.
- Several sources say it is a Chaldean Catholic church, while others, including the Holy See, indicate it is Syriac Catholic.
- Syriac Catholic is synonymous with Syrian Catholic and Syro-Catholic.
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Al-Qaeda in Iraq ... [said] the killing sword will not be lifted [, demanding] that the Christians 'show to the mujahedeen their seriousness to pressure this belligerent church to release the captive women from the prisons of their monasteries.' The women, Camilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine, are the wives of Coptic priests whom al-Qaeda said were forcibly detained by the Coptic Church after they had willingly converted to Islam.
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