Independent Online, South Africa
Aug 1 2004

Six churches bombed in Iraq's Bloody Sunday


By Edmund Blair

Baghdad - Car bombs exploded outside at least six Christian churches
in Iraq on Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding many
more in an apparently coordinated attack timed to coincide with
evening prayers.

"We are expecting a huge number of casualties," an Interior Ministry
source said. He said there had been four blasts at churches in
Baghdad and two in Mosul. At least two of the Baghdad blasts were
suicide car bomb attacks, he said.

The attacks were the first to target Christian churches during the
15-month insurgency.

'We are expecting a huge number of casualties'
Iraqis said the blasts, which scattered chunks of hot metal and
shattered stained glass windows, said they feared the attacks were
designed to stir tensions among Iraq's diverse religious communities.

"These operations are aimed at creating strife between Christians,
Shi'as, Sunnis and others, nothing more, nothing less," said Omar
Hussein, 25, a metalworker near the scene of a blast at the Armenian
church in central Baghdad.

Another blast happened about 15 minutes later outside an Assyrian
church in the same area, mangling cars and sending a loud boom
reverberating across the neighbourhood. Medics dragged a wounded man
from a car, his arm almost torn off by the blast.

An ambulance driver told Reuters that two people were killed in the
explosion at the Assyrian church and several wounded.

Police said at least one person was killed in one of the Mosul
blasts.

There are about 800,000 Christians in Iraq, most of them in Baghdad.
There have been a string of attacks in recent weeks on alcohol
sellers throughout Iraq, the majority of whom are Christians of
either the Assyrian, Chaldean or Armenian denominations.

Earlier on Sunday, a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle outside a
police station in Mosul, killing at least five people and wounding
53.

Witnesses said the Toyota Landcruiser raced towards a police
checkpoint as guards screamed at the driver to stop. When he didn't,
they opened fire, killing him. But the car ploughed on and detonated
about 20 metres from the police station.

"I was waiting for a taxi when the car approached at high speed,"
said witness Younis al-Hadidi, 32. "It blew up in the middle of
everyone."

Police said four of the five killed were police officers and the
wounded were both civilians and police. Doctors said many of the
wounded were badly hurt and the death toll could rise.

Another suicide car bomb blast outside a U.S. base in Mosul last week
killed four civilians and wounded a dozen.

Sunday's bombings came four days after an attack outside a police
recruiting centre in Baquba, north of Baghdad, killed 70 people.
Police are frequently targeted by militants who regarded them as
collaborators with US forces.

The attacks followed another night of clashes between US forces and
guerrillas in the rebellious city of Falluja, west of Baghdad, in
which at least 10 Iraqis died and 35 were wounded, a doctor at the
main hospital said.

There were conflicting reports over the fate of three Indians, three
Kenyans and an Egyptian taken hostage in Iraq this month.

In Nairobi, Kenyan Foreign Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere had told a
news conference that guerrillas had released the seven hostages. But
the Kuwaiti firm employing the men and an Iraqi mediator who has been
negotiating their release said they were still in captivity.

Scores of hostages from two dozen countries have been seized by
kidnappers in the last four months. Most have been freed but several
have been executed N at least four by beheading.

On Saturday, militants led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
said they had kidnapped two Turkish truck drivers and would behead
them in 48 hours unless their Turkish employer quit the country.

Iraqi commandos freed a Lebanese hostage on Sunday, a Lebanese
Foreign Ministry source said, but there was no word on a fellow
countryman snatched along with a Syrian driver on Friday.