2010 Baghdad church massacre

2010 Baghdad church massacre

The cross of the Sayedat al-najat (“Our Lady of Salvation”) Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad.
Date 31 October 2010,
17:00[1] – ~21:30 (UTC+4)
Target The Sayidat al-Nejat[2] (“Our Lady of Deliverance”) Syriac Catholic Church[3]
Attack type
Raid; hostage holding; killing due to religious ideas
Deaths Two priests;
39–44 worshippers;
7–12 police/security;
5 bystanders;
all (perhaps six) jihadi attackers
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators Islamic State of Iraq

Six suicide jihadis of a group formerly called Islamic State of Iraq attacked a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad during Sunday evening Mass, on 31 October 2010, and started killing the worshipers, saying they were sending the Christians to "hell" and themselves to "heaven".

Hours later Iraqi commandos stormed the church, inducing the suicide jihadis to detonate their suicide vests. 58 worshipers, priests, policemen and bystanders were killed and 78 were wounded or maimed. World leaders and some Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite imams condemned the massacre.

In late November 2010, Huthaifa al-Batawi, who was accused of master-minding the assault, was arrested along with 11 others in connection with the attack. During a failed attempt to escape in May 2011, Batawi and 10 other senior al-Qaeda militants were killed by an Iraqi SWAT team.[5] On 2 August 2011, three other men were sentenced to death and a fourth to 20 years in prison in connection with the massacre. In 2012, an appeal court confirmed the sentences.[6]



After the 19 March 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition aiming to destroy Iraq’s Ba'athist government of President Saddam Hussein, those occupying forces on 21 April 2003 installed their Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as provisional government over Iraq.

On 28 June 2004 the CPA installed the Iraqi Interim Government, consisting of Iraqis, and headed by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shia Muslim.

After the Iraqi parliamentary elections of December 2005, which saw a high turnout of 80%, a broad coalition government was formed consisting of the four largest parties: the Shi'ite National Iraqi Alliance (or United Iraqi Alliance), the Kurdish Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (DPAK), the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front (or Tawafuq) and the diverse Iraqi National List. This government was headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, and sworn in on 20 May 2006.

On 7 March 2010, new parliamentary elections had taken place; a new government however had not yet been formed.

‘Islamic State of Iraq’

In 1999, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started his group Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (“Organization of Monotheism and Jihad”) with the purpose of toppling so-called “apostate” Arab regimes like the Jordanian monarchy.[7]

Half a year after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi had turned his main attention to Iraq, and forged himself a reputation with brutal beheadings and a suicide bombing campaign against Shiite religious targets and Sunni civilians,[7] but had also attacked UN representatives and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad (August 2003) and killed or beheaded nine foreign hostages (May–October 2004).

In October 2004, Zarqawi pledged bay'ah (allegiance) to Osama bin Laden, and renamed his group as Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, more popularly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), or al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers, or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.[7] Their butchery business continued on the same footing as before.

In January 2006, AQI became part of a larger umbrella organization Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) still fighting “the invading kafir (infidels) and their apostate stooges...”.

On 13 October 2006, MSC declared the establishment of Islamic State of Iraq.[8] After this declaration, claims of responsibility for butchery acts under the name of MSC eventually ceased and were replaced by claims from the Islamic State of Iraq.

Christians in Iraq

Christians are believed to have lived in Iraq since the first century AD. In 2003, Iraq counted one million Christians according to The New York Times[9] on a population of 26 million;[10] Syrian Catholic officials estimated Iraq to have counted 2½ million Christians in 2003.[4]

Between 2003 and 2007, 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq were Christian.[10][11] By November 2010, half of the Christians of 2003 had left Iraq,[9] 600,000 still remained according to BBC,[12] 1½ million still remained according to Syrian Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.[4]

On 1 August 2004, simultaneously six churches in Baghdad and Mosul were attacked with bombs killing 12 people and wounding many.[13] The Sayidat al-Nejat[2] (= “Our Lady of Salvation”) Syrian Chaldean Catholic[3] church in Karrada, a middle-class district in Baghdad with many Christian churches, was one of the churches then attacked with a car bomb, which then killed two people and wounded 90.[2] Those 2004-church-attacks were claimed but it is unclear who claimed them.[13]

In August 2006, 13 Syrian Christian women in Baghdad were kidnapped and murdered.[11] Between December 2004 and December 2006, probably again 27 churches in Iraq were attacked or bombed.[11] Christians were targets of violence and often kidnapped to force relatives to pay ransom.[10] The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in 2007 that Christians were among the most vulnerable groups in Iraq.[10]

American pastor threatens to burn the Quran

In the beginning of September 2010, the Reverend Terry Jones in Gainsville, Florida, U.S.A., announced he would burn a Quran on 11 September 2010. A team from The New York Times went to the Sayidat al-Nejat Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad and noticed concrete bollards, razor wire and oil drums filled with cement barricading the entrance—apparently the church was preparing for the worst.

The NYT journalists spoke there with father Thaer Abdal. Abdal said he was worried that the threatened Quran-burning would cause Christians in Iraq to be targeted again after a period of relative calm, and said:

"I would like to send a message to the pastor who is in America; he lives in a society that protects humans and religious beliefs. Why would he want to harm Christians in Iraq? This is dangerous. He should realize that we live in cultures of various denominations, especially in Iraq."[2]


Raid on Stock Exchange

On Sunday 31 October 2010 at 5pm,[12] at dusk,[14] four men ‘in military uniforms’ (as a nearby resident described later) got out of a black SUV in front of the Iraq Stock Exchange in Baghdad.[15] Baghdad’s security spokesman Al-Moussawi later said, the men had been disguised as guards working for a private security firm and had carried fake IDs, which may have enabled them to approach the church despite checkpoints in the vicinity.[14]

Those men were wearing suicide vests, and battled with security forces at the stock exchange, and killed two guards who tried to stop them from raiding the building.[16] In this attack also four passersby were killed.[15]

Attack on church

Then three other men arrived in an ordinary car, and all seven men jumped over the wall into the Sayidat al-Nejat[2] (= “Our Lady of Salvation”) Syriac Catholic church,[3] which was just across the road,[12] around 6pm,[3] during Sunday Mass,[15] armed with machine guns, explosive belts[15] and grenades,[3] detonated their ordinary car,[15] clashed with guards and killed some,[12] burst through the church’s huge wooden doors[17] and quickly closed the doors.[15] While they came in, some 19 people managed to escape out of the church.[16] Other sources counted six attackers,[12] or 6 to 15.[18]

100 worshippers were herded to the centre of the church by the gunmen, another 60 were ushered to a small room at the back of the church by a priest.[3] The gunmen turned the lights off and started shooting.[3] Hostages were on the floor and could not lift up their heads, and heard gunshots over their heads.[19] Then the gunmen also started shooting at the congregation.[3]

ISI claim

The militants meanwhile phoned TV station Al-Baghdadia,[12] claimed the attack for Islamic State of Iraq (ISI),[15] demanded the release of all al-Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt,[16] and requested Al-Baghdadia to broadcast the news that they wanted to negotiate.[12]

Also, the militants contacted the authorities by mobile phone, demanding the release of al-Qaeda prisoners and a number of women they insisted were being held prisoner by the Coptic Church in Egypt.[12]

Shooting “infidels”

Survivors and Iraqi officials and an anonymous American official said later, that soon after seizing the church building the gunmen had started to kill many hostages.[18]

One priest, Thaer Abdal, was shot dead where he stood,[17] at the altar,[2] then they started shooting at young people.[17] The gunmen “were just youths”, said a 26-year-old woman.[3] While shooting people, the gunmen said: “We will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell”, and screamed: “All of you are infidels. We are here to avenge the burning of the Qur'an and the jailing of Muslim women in Egypt”.[17]

Iraqi troops storm the church

Around 8.30pm, three vehicles of U.S. troops arrived at the church.[3] An anonymous American official said later, that their assumption of the gunmen having begun to systematically execute hostages was the reason for the Iraqi security forces to storm the church without further delay.[18] Also Iraqi Defence Minister al-Obeidi said later, the gunmen threatened to kill all hostages, leading the government to storm the church.[12]

Just after 9pm, dozens of Iraqi security forces,[3] an elite commando under control of Prime Minister Maliki’s office,[15] blew open the church doors and stormed inside;[3] U.S. forces provided air support but did not also enter the church.[16] As the Iraqi forces rushed in, the gunmen opened fire on the hostages in the church,[3] slaughtered them en masse.[17] In the basement of the church a gunman killed 30 hostages, either by throwing two grenades at them or by setting off the explosives vest he was wearing.[14]

58 people were killed that day in the church massacre[15][17] and 50[3] or 78[4] wounded; presumably most of them when the gunmen detonated two suicide vests.[15] A later report spoke of 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel being killed in the church incident.[6] Also all six attackers were killed.[12] Another source spoke of 39 worshippers, two priests, 12 policemen and five bystanders outside the church to have been killed.[4]

An Iraqi police officer said that the suicide vests had been filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible, that human flesh was scattered everywhere, even stuck to the roof of the hall, and that many people went to the hospitals without legs and hands.[1]

ISI declaring war and hate on Christianity

Afterwards, Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted an audio message on a jihadist website again claiming responsibility for the attack, and calling for the release of two Egyptian female Muslims who they alleged were being held against their will in Coptic Christian monasteries in Egypt (see also Kamilia Shehata: an Egyptian Christian woman, allegedly converted to Islam, allegedly returned by police to her family).[16][17]

In probably that same Internet statement, ISI (or ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’) also called the church “the dirty den of idolatry”,[2] said that a deadline now expired for Egypt’s Coptic church to free those two women purportedly held captive in monasteries,[20] that the fuse of a campaign against Iraqi Christians had been lit,[2] and therefore now declared ”all Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, legitimate targets for the mujahedeen wherever they can reach them”,[20] and, referring to the alleged Muslim women held captive in monasteries, wrote: “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” and demanded that the Christians “pressure this belligerent church to release the captive women from the prisons of their monasteries.”[20]


U.S. Army spokesman Bloom assumed the whole incident 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."[16]

The opposite view was expressed by the Tehran Times, which suggested that the initial assault on the Stock Exchange building may have been only an attempt to divert attention from their real target: the church.[14] The BBC also assumed that the church had been the real target.[12]

Investigation, measures, trial

On 31 October, an unspecified number of suspects were arrested.[1] As standard procedure after high-profile attacks, the police commander in charge of the district was also detained for questioning by ‘the authorities’.[14]

1 November 2010, the building of TV station Al-Baghdadia, that had been contacted by the militants (see section ISI claim), was taken over by government troops, the station was taken off air, the director and an employee arrested on vague charges, but released after 24 hours.[12]

Late November 2010, Huthaifa al-Batawi, known as al-Qaeda (in Iraq)’s "Emir of Baghdad", was arrested along with 11 others in connection with the 31 October assault on Our Lady of Salvation church.

Batawi was accused of master-minding the assault and was locked up in a counter-terrorism jail complex in Baghdad’s Karrada district. During a failed attempt to escape in May 2011, Batawi and 10 other senior al-Qaeda militants were killed by an Iraqi SWAT team.[21]

Three other men were sentenced to death and a fourth to 20 years in prison, on 2 August 2011, in connection with that 31 October 2010 massacre. In 2012 an appeal court confirmed the sentences.[6]

International reactions


  1. 1 2 3 Leland, John (31 October 2010). "Iraqi Forces Storm a Church With Hostages in a Day of Bloodshed". The New York Times. Retrieved on 7 January 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Premonitions of Danger at Baghdad Church Held Hostage" The New York Times, 1 November 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Baghdad church siege leaves 52 dead". The Guardian. 1 November 2010. Retrieved on 25 December 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Surk, Barbara; Jakes, Lara (1 November 2010). "Iraqi Christians mourn after church siege kills 58". yahoo.com. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  5. "Al-Qaeda leader attempts Baghdad jailbreak leaving 18 dead". The Telegraph. London. 8 May 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 'Iraq confirms death sentences for church attack'. Ishtar Broadcasting Corporation, 2 February 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  7. 1 2 3 "The War between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement" (PDF). Washington Institute for Near East Policy. June 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  8. "The Rump Islamic Emirate of Iraq". The Long War Journal. 16 October 2006. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  9. 1 2 "Church Attack Seen as Strike at Iraq’s Core" (page 1). New York Times, 2 November 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "U.S. Gov't Watchdog Urges Protection for Iraq's Assyrian Christians". The Christian Post. 14 March 2007. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  11. 1 2 3 "Assyrian Christians 'Most Vulnerable Population' in Iraq". The Christian Post. 5 December 2006. Archived from the original on 6 December 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Iraq TV station taken off air after deadly church raid". BBC.co.uk, 1 November 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  13. 1 2 "Leaders condemn Iraq church bombs". BBC News. 2 August 2004. Archived from the original on 5 January 2007. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Grand Ayatollah Sistani Condemns Attack on Baghdad Church". Tehran Times. 3 November 2010. Archived from the original on 4 November 2010. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Arraf, Jane (1 November 2010). "After Baghdad church attack, Christians shocked but say 'we still have a mission here'". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved on 24 December 2014.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Al-Qaeda claims Iraq church attack". Al Jazeera. 2 November 2010. Retrieved on 24 December 2014.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chulov, Martin (1 November 2010). "Baghdad church siege survivors speak" The Guardian. Retrieved on 25 December 2014.
  18. 1 2 3 "Church Attack Seen as Strike at Iraq’s Core" (page 2). New York Times, 2 November 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  19. "Eyewitness: Baghdad church siege". BBC News. 1 November 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  20. 1 2 3 4 "Al-Qaeda Threatens Christians, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Protect Churches". Al-Manar TV. 3 November 2010. Archived from the original on 13 November 2010. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  21. "Al-Qaeda leader attempts Baghdad jailbreak leaving 18 dead". The Telegraph. London. 8 May 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  22. "Kurdistan Region Presidency condemns terrorist attack on Baghdad church". Kurdistan Regional Government. 2 November 2010. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  23. "Iraqi Christians mourn victims". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved on 4 November 2010.
  24. "Iraq: More attacks on Christians in Baghdad a week after massacre" speroforum.com (Asia News), 2010-11-08. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
  25. "France to Treat Iraqis Wounded in Church Siege" Archived 13 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Al-Manar TV, 2010-11-06. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  26. "Iran condemns deadly hostage taking in Baghdad church". Iranian Students News Agency (2010-11-03). Retrieved on 3 November 2010.
  27. "Iran raps West for Iraq's insecurity" Archived 5 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine.. Press TV (2010-11-03). Retrieved on 4 November 2010.
  28. "Pope condemns "ferocious" attack on Baghdad church". Reuters.com, 2010-11-01. Retrieved on 8 November 2010.
  29. "Message for the Funeral Mass of the Victims of the Terrorist Attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad" Archived 25 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine. www.vatican.va, 2010-11-03. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
  30. "Moscow denounces attack on Catholic church in Baghdad". Interfax. (2010-11-01). Retrieved on 3 November 2010.
  31. "France welcomes survivors of Baghdad church attack". CNN. 9 November 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
  32. "Fears over fate of Iraqi Christians" Al Jazeera video, 2010-11-07. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
  33. Bohan, Caren (2010-11-01). "U.S. condemns al Qaeda-linked church attack in Iraq" Reuters. Retrieved on 3 November 2010.
  34. Call on the Administration to Develop Comprehensive Policy to Protect Indigenous Religious Communities in Iraq Archived 8 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine. letter from Representatives to Sec'y of State, 5 November 2010.
  35. "Members of Congress Express Condolences for Victims of Church Hostage Crisis in Baghdad" press release from Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, 2010-11-05. Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  36. Angel, Cecil (2010-11-02). "Metro Chaldeans outraged". Detroit Free Press. freep.com. Retrieved on 3 November 2010.
  37. Schlikerman, Becky (7 November 2010). "Assyrians in Chicago to rally against the killings of Iraqi Christian at church". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  38. "The Black March in Chicago: Assyrians Across the World Protest". SkokieNet. 10 November 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  39. Karlovsky, Brian (7 December 2010). "Black March sparks call to protect Assyrian people in Iraq". Liverpool Leader. Retrieved 8 November 2011.

See also

Coordinates: 33°18′25″N 44°25′33″E / 33.30694°N 44.42583°E / 33.30694; 44.42583

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