It is with deep sorrow to report that on Sunday October 31, 2010, more than 58 innocent and defenseless people were killed and over 70 severely injured during an attempt by Iraqi security forces to free more than a hundred Christians which were detained by gunmen linked to Al Qaieda. This tragic event took place during Sunday evening Mass in one of the largest churches in Baghdad, near the heavily fortified Green Zone.
According to the SITE Institute, Al-Qaida's the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack. The radical group has said all Christians in the Middle East are "legitimate targets".
"We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood," the insurgent group said in a statement posted late Tuesday on militant websites.
Among those killed were at least five women, more than seven children and two priests, according to officals and witnesses. Among the injured were at least ten women, eight children and a priest.
"They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms. They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest... We heard a lot of gunfire and explosions, and some people were hurt from falling windows, doors and debris."One of the freed hostages, an 18 year old man said, declining to give his name, but adding that all the hostages had been huddled into the main prayer hall when the gun battles began with security forces.
Iraq's top Catholic prelate, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly has encouraged the country's remaining 1.5 million Christians to stay in the country. He called on the authorities for more protection and police and over the past week there has been a boosted military presence around Baghdad's churches.
However, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood said members of Iraq's religious minority should leave the country to escape violence directed at their community, as it appeared certain that insurgents were deliberately targeting church services.
"I say clearly and now that 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," said Dawood, according to prepared remarks he sent to CNN.
Speaking at a service in London, he also asked the British government, and those in other European countries, to grant asylum to Christians living in Iraq.
"The Iraqi government is weak, biased, if not extremist. It does not protect us and the other minorities. It has ignored our legal rights. We ask the British government, the EU and the U.N. to protect us... in order to preserve what is left of the victims who do not carry a weapon to fight and kill," said Dawood.
It is time for President Obama administration as well as all other leaders in the world to take action to protect vulnerable religious minority communities to ensure the safety of Christians in Iraq. Also, we urged the U.N. to adopt a more generous refugee and asylum policy, including the possible resettlement of at-risk cases to the United States and elsewhere in the world.