Armenian Church Among Five Bombed over Weekend in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Combined Sources)–The Armenian Apostolic Church condemned on Monday the weekend wave of bomb attacks on an Armenian Catholic church and four other Christian worship sites in Iraq that left 11 people dead and more than 50 others wounded.

The series of coordinated explosions rocked five churches across Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul on Sunday–killing at least 11 people and injuring dozens more in the first attacks targeting the country’s Christian minority since the 15-month violent insurgency here began.

The attacks began just after 18:00 local time–when an attack parked a vehicle packed with explosives and mortar bombs in front of an Armenian church in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. The blast–just 15 minutes into the evening service–blew out windows and damaged cars and nearby houses.

Some 20 minutes later–as survivors gathered in the streets and rescue workers streamed to the scene–a second blast occurred in front of the Assyrian Catholic church only 500 meters away.

There was no word on whether there were any Armenia’s among the dead. "I saw injured women and children and men–the church’s glass shattered everywhere," Juliette Agob–a woman who was inside the Armenian church during the first explosion–was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

The church’s governing Mother See in Etchmiadzin–said although none of its churches and other property in Iraq was targeted in the apparently coordinated series of explosions on Sunday–it is deeply saddened by the loss of life.

"The Armenian Apostolic Holy Church expresses her sympathies to the families of the victims and all Iraqi people–and wishes complete recovery to the wounded and injured," the office of Catholicos Garegin II said in a statement. "We pray that the centuries of friendship and peaceful co-existence among Christian and Muslim peoples in the East will not be endangered by similar condemnable violence; for peace to be re-established in the region; and that the Iraqi people continue with the creation of their safe and progressing lives."

"I saw wounded 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.

After the second bombing–Iraqi police rushed to search other churches in the city. The sweeps turned up a sixth bomb–which was neutralized by American sappers. However–as police hunted for more bombs–two more explosions occurred–one outside the Chaldean Patriarchate in the southern district of Dora and the other in New Baghdad in the eastern part of the city.

The attack on the Chaldean Patriarchate occurred as worshippers began arriving for Mass around sunset. Five people were killed–including a child. The LA Times quoted witnesses who described seeing two men pull up in separate cars–park them near the church–then casually walk away. Minutes later–the vehicles exploded–hurling shrapnel in all directions and leaving gaping craters in the road.

The apparent target of the attack in New Baghdad was St. Elya’s Chaldean Church. However–a nearby Shiite mosque bore the brunt of the blast. Both the mosque and the church were holding funerals at the time of the attacks.

In the Mosul attack–insurgents parked a white Toyota Supra packed with explosives and mortar shells outside a Catholic church. The assailants first launched a rocket toward the building and then detonated the car bomb–according to a US military statement. The blast killed a passing motorist and wounded four other people. The church office was badly damaged–but there was little damage to the church itself. Police said the toll could have been higher if all the mortar shells in the car had detonated.

The attacks all used similar modus operandi; carbombs filled with explosives and crude bombs made of mortar shells were parked in front of the churches. The drivers left the vehicles and detonated the explosives by remote control. None of the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers. The methods and materials used were a departure from the high-profile attacks on Shiite targets earlier this year–leading some experts to believe they were carried out by a different group.

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.

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