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Deadly bombing hits Iraq church in run-up to Christmas

MOSUL, Iraq – Agence France-Presse | 12/23/2009 12:00:00 AM |

With Christmas just around the corner, a bomb attack on a church in the Iraqi city of Mosul killed two passersby and wounded five others, the sixth attack on Christians there in less than a month.

With Christmas just around the corner, a bomb attack on a church in the Iraqi city of Mosul killed two passersby and wounded five others, the sixth attack on Christians there in less than a month.

The violence in the restive northern city comes after the Iraqi army said last week it had put its forces on alert in areas with significant Christian populations because of intelligence they could be attacked. "Around 11 am (0800 GMT), a handcart used to carry flour, left across the street from the Syrian Orthodox church of St Thomas, exploded and caused damage" to the building, witness Hamis Paulos said.

A hospital official in Mosul, north of Baghdad, told AFP "the new toll is two dead and five wounded, because one of the injured died." "According to their identity cards, the two dead were Muslims." A previous toll from police had said that one person had been killed and six wounded.

Father Faez Wadiha, whose own Syrian Orthodox Parish of the Very Pure Virgin was attacked a week ago, said "words cannot describe what has happened. "This is certainly a Christmas present for Mosul," he said with irony, "a message of congratulations why we are celebrating a feast of love and peace." "But we will pray in the streets, in homes, in shops. God is everywhere, not just in churches."

Father Wadiha's parish operates a school adjacent to the church, in central Mosul, and a bomb exploded there on Dec. 15, killing an eight-day old girl and wounding 40 people, including five students. A second bomb struck the Syrian Catholic Church of the Annunciation in the north of the city, without causing any casualties. On Nov. 26, a church and a convent were bombed, with both targets severely damaged but without any casualties, religious leaders said. One of the attacks hit the St Theresa Convent of Dominican nuns in the western Jadida (New Mosul) district, said the chief representative of the Dominican order in Iraq, Father Yousif Thomas Mirkis. "These attacks are aimed at forcing Christians to leave the country," he told AFP, noting that the bomb had been placed inside the convent grounds and caused damage to the building.

Another bomb struck the Church of St Ephrem in the same Mosul district, causing major damage to the Chaldean place of worship, Patriarchal Vicar George Basman said. And last week, a 30-year-old Christian, Zeid Majid Yussef, was gunned down as he walked from his parked car to his home. Defense ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said on Friday that the army had been put on alert because of threats against the Christian minority over the coming holiday period. "We have put our forces on alert in Baghdad, the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, including its capital Mosul, where our Christian brothers will be celebrating their holidays, because we have intelligence indicating they could be attacked during this period," he told AFP.

Askari said the attacks on churches "carry the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, and we are going to take serious measures to assure the security of churches and avoid terrorist attacks." Last year, thousands of Christians fled Mosul in the face of violence that claimed the lives of 40 members of the community. Since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, hundreds of Iraqi Christians have been killed and several churches attacked. Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the invasion, but their number has since shrunk by a third or more as members of the community have fled abroad, according to Christian leaders. Although violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq compared to last year, attacks remain common in Mosul and the capital Baghdad.

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