Iraq Churches Targeted in Series of Attacks

3 Killed; Blasts Hit Baghdad and Kirkuk

Fadi Raad Elias, who was killed when the bombers struck the Virgin Mary Catholic ChurchBAGHDAD, Iraq, JAN. 30, 2006 ( Three people died Sunday and more than 20 were injured when bombers targeted six crowded churches in Iraq.

Terrified parishioners ran for their lives when the car bombers struck in coordinated attacks that took place as services got under way on Sunday evening in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk.

Among the dead in Kirkuk was 13-year-old Fadi Raad Elias, who was killed when the bombers struck the Virgin Mary Catholic Church.

In the capital, Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly missed the bombs by a matter of minutes after security checks delayed his arrival at St. Mary Catholic Church in the Al Bonook quarter of Baghdad.

More than a dozen people were injured in Baghdad when simultaneous explosions went off at four churches.

A further bomb exploded close to the Vatican Embassy in Al Wiya, Baghdad.

Both in Kirkuk, where two churches were hit, and also in Baghdad, the bombers targeted Christians of many denominations including Chaldeans, Syrian Orthodox, Latin rite and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Clerics' call?

According to sources referred to ZENIT by Aid to the Church in Need, it is believed that fundamentalist Muslim clerics called for the attacks after a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper denigrated the prophet Mohammed. The images were subsequently broadcast on Islamic satellite channels.

Sunday's attacks were similar to the bombing of churches in Baghdad and Mosul in August 2004, which killed 15 people.

In statements on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Iraq, said: "At this moment it is difficult to theorize on these attacks, it is too early."

"It is clear that destabilization is one of the fundamental aspects of those desiring to leave the country in chaos," he added.

Condemning the attacks, Marie-Ange Siebrecht, who heads the Middle East department of Aid to the Church in Need, said: "We hear about crisis in Iraq so often and yet the world is totally unaware of the suffering of Christians in a country which has been their home for thousands of years."

Aid to the Church in Need reported that in Baghdad and also in the northern city of Mosul, dozens of Christian university students were physically attacked by Muslim undergraduates who shouted slogans against them, calling them nonbelievers and American agents.

In statements to AsiaNews, Patriarch Delly said: "We are afraid, but we find comfort in prayer."