BAGHDAD - Scores of worshipers and seven Iraqi commandos were killed Sunday night during an hours-long siege of a prominent Catholic church in Baghdad, authorities and church officials said.
The bulk of the bloodletting happened shortly after 9 p.m. when Iraqi Special Operations troops stormed Our Lady of Salvation church in the upscale Karradah neighborhood to try and free worshipers who had been taken hostage. Several of the hostages had already been killed by the assailants who had taken over the church, authorities said. The attempted rescue prompted to detonate suicide vests, multiplying the death toll.
Two Assyrian priests who were presiding over Sunday evening Mass were among those slain during the hours-long encounter. One priest was executed and the other was reportedly killed in an explosion, fellow priest Meyassr Portus said.
"People come here just to pray," Portus said Monday, weeping outside the church as residents swept broken glass off the street and repair crews fixed windows and mangled electrical wires. "They are trying to destroy humanity here. Christians just want to live in peace."
Today the World Council of Churches released a statement condemning the attack:
"The World Council of Churches strongly condemns the criminal act of terror that took place on Sunday in the Sayyidat al-Najat Church in Baghdad and expresses its deep sympathy and solidarity with those who lost their loved ones and pray for a speedy recovery for the injured.
The fellowship of the World Council of Churches is deeply troubled by the continuous suffering of Christians in Iraq and continues to stand in solidarity with all churches as they pass through turbulent and challenging times and witness to the love and peace of God in Jesus Christ even amidst hatred and aggression.
This is not the first time that such attacks have targeted Christian communities in Iraq. All those responsible need to be brought to justice, and governmental authorities should take their responsibility to bring safety and security to all citizens and particularly to those in vulnerable situation."
Let us continue to keep all the people of Iraq in our prayers.