News / Middle East

Death Toll Higher in Baghdad Church Attack

A Christian Iraqi man stands close to his destroyed vehicles parked close to the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic cathedral, in central Baghdad, 1 Nov 2010
A Christian Iraqi man stands close to his destroyed vehicles parked close to the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic cathedral, in central Baghdad, 1 Nov 2010

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Iraqi authorities are defending their handling of a hostage-taking attack Sunday at a Baghdad church.  At least 57 people died during the incident, while dozens more were wounded.

Iraqi officials surveyed the aftermath of the siege at the Our Lady of Deliverance church, expressing shock at the extent of the carnage.

Police said militants set off suicide vests loaded with ball bearings inside the crowded church, where worshippers had gathered for prayer.

It was not immediately clear how many hostages were killed by militants or died at the hands of Iraqi forces during the rescue attempt.

Susan Yackee interview with Joost Hiltermann, Program Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group (in Washington):

Lawmaker Unadem Kana, a Christian, said he appreciated the sacrifice of the troops, both those wounded and killed, but expressed reservations.

Kana said the mission was not professional.  

Video of the incident released by the U.S. military showed several blasts as forces moved in.

Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qadr al-Obeidi has defended the move, saying it was impossible to wait because the hostage takers had threatened to kill the captives.

Al-Obeidi called the operation a success, with all the terrorists killed and several suspects detained.  Those arrested are believed to be connected to the al-Qaida-linked group Islamic State of Iraq.  

A statement attributed to the group late Sunday claimed responsibility for the attack.  It tied the assault on Iraqi Christians to the case of two Egyptian women who disappeared after allegedly converting from Christianity to Islam.

Although the violence came to a climax at the church, it began earlier in the day at a nearby stock exchange, in Baghdad's Karada neighborhood.

There was also some confusion about the role of the U.S. military in the operation.  Iraqi and U.S. officials say Iraqi forces took the lead.  But one hostage who survived the ordeal said he was freed by a group with men who looked like Americans.

The United States says its troops are no longer engaged in any combat missions in Iraq.

Washington is eager to see greater stability in Iraq as it fulfills an agreement to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country by the end of next year.

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