2010 Baghdad church massacre
|2010 Baghdad church massacre|
The cross of the Sayedat al-najat (“Our Lady of Salvation”) Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad.
31 October 2010, |
17:00 – ~21:30 (UTC+4)
|Target||The Sayidat al-Nejat (“Our Lady of Deliverance”) Syriac Catholic Church|
|Raid; hostage holding; killing due to religious ideas|
Two priests; |
all (perhaps six) jihadi attackers
|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. 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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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, 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. Their butchery business continued on the same footing as before.
On 13 October 2006, MSC declared the establishment of Islamic State of Iraq. 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 on a population of 26 million; Syrian Catholic officials estimated Iraq to have counted 2½ million Christians in 2003.
Between 2003 and 2007, 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq were Christian. By November 2010, half of the Christians of 2003 had left Iraq, 600,000 still remained according to BBC, 1½ million still remained according to Syrian Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.
On 1 August 2004, simultaneously six churches in Baghdad and Mosul were attacked with bombs killing 12 people and wounding many. The Sayidat al-Nejat (= “Our Lady of Salvation”) Syrian Chaldean Catholic 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. Those 2004-church-attacks were claimed but it is unclear who claimed them.
In August 2006, 13 Syrian Christian women in Baghdad were kidnapped and murdered. Between December 2004 and December 2006, probably again 27 churches in Iraq were attacked or bombed. Christians were targets of violence and often kidnapped to force relatives to pay ransom. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in 2007 that Christians were among the most vulnerable groups in Iraq.
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."
Raid on Stock Exchange
On Sunday 31 October 2010 at 5pm, at dusk, 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. 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.
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. In this attack also four passersby were killed.
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 (= “Our Lady of Salvation”) Syriac Catholic church, which was just across the road, around 6pm, during Sunday Mass, armed with machine guns, explosive belts and grenades, detonated their ordinary car, clashed with guards and killed some, burst through the church’s huge wooden doors and quickly closed the doors. While they came in, some 19 people managed to escape out of the church. Other sources counted six attackers, or 6 to 15.
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. The gunmen turned the lights off and started shooting. Hostages were on the floor and could not lift up their heads, and heard gunshots over their heads. Then the gunmen also started shooting at the congregation.
The militants meanwhile phoned TV station Al-Baghdadia, claimed the attack for Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), demanded the release of all al-Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt, and requested Al-Baghdadia to broadcast the news that they wanted to negotiate.
One priest, Thaer Abdal, was shot dead where he stood, at the altar, then they started shooting at young people. The gunmen “were just youths”, said a 26-year-old woman. 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”.
Iraqi troops storm the church
Around 8.30pm, three vehicles of U.S. troops arrived at the church. 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. Also Iraqi Defence Minister al-Obeidi said later, the gunmen threatened to kill all hostages, leading the government to storm the church.
Just after 9pm, dozens of Iraqi security forces, an elite commando under control of Prime Minister Maliki’s office, blew open the church doors and stormed inside; U.S. forces provided air support but did not also enter the church. As the Iraqi forces rushed in, the gunmen opened fire on the hostages in the church, slaughtered them en masse. 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.
58 people were killed that day in the church massacre and 50 or 78 wounded; presumably most of them when the gunmen detonated two suicide vests. A later report spoke of 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel being killed in the church incident. Also all six attackers were killed. Another source spoke of 39 worshippers, two priests, 12 policemen and five bystanders outside the church to have been killed.
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.
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).
In probably that same Internet statement, ISI (or ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’) also called the church “the dirty den of idolatry”, said that a deadline now expired for Egypt’s Coptic church to free those two women purportedly held captive in monasteries, that the fuse of a campaign against Iraqi Christians had been lit, and therefore now declared ”all Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, legitimate targets for the mujahedeen wherever they can reach them”, 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.”
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."
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. The BBC also assumed that the church had been the real target.
Investigation, measures, trial
On 31 October, an unspecified number of suspects were arrested. As standard procedure after high-profile attacks, the police commander in charge of the district was also detained for questioning by ‘the authorities’.
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.
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.
- 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."
- 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.
- Worldwide, young Assyrian Christians organized protest rallies for Monday 8 November 2010, dubbed “The Black March”, in solidarity with the victims in the 31 October attack.
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