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Thursday, November 4, 2010 | Volume: 11009

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Grand Ayatollah Sistani condemns attack on Baghdad church
Tehran Times International Desk

TEHRAN -- Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly condemned the hostage-taking incident at a Catholic church in Baghdad.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who is based in Najaf, also advised Iraqi security forces to take more responsibility for the protection of Iraqi citizens, Iraq’s Buratha News Agency reported.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani is Iraq’s most important marja taqlid, which is a Shia cleric regarded as a source of emulation.

The attack on Our Lady of Deliverance church on Sunday left at least 52 people dead and 67 wounded.

The attack, which an Al-Qaeda-linked organization claimed responsibility for, was the deadliest against Iraq's Christian minority since the U.S.-led occupation began in 2003. It chilled the hearts of the remaining members of the Iraqi Christian community, who have so far resisted the urge to flee from the war-torn country.

On Tuesday, Iraq launched an investigation into the attack in order to find out how Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen were able to storm the building despite checkpoints, Reuters reported.

Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said the assailants were disguised as guards working for a private security firm and carried fake IDs.

“We have formed an investigation to uncover details of the attack and if we discover anyone has been negligent or complicit, he will be held strictly accountable,” Moussawi said.

“We have many question marks about how such a large number of terrorists managed to reach the church in the heart of Baghdad,” he added.

Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim said the authorities ordered the detention of the police commander in charge of the district where the church attack took place for questioning, a standard procedure after high-profile attacks.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement issued on Monday that the attack on the church was an attempt to reignite sectarian strife in Iraq and to drive more Christians out of the country.

Pope Benedict XVI also denounced the “ferocious” assault and called for renewed international efforts to broker peace in the region. Catholics made up 2.89 percent of Iraq's population in 1980; by 2008 they were merely 0.89 percent.

Extremists have systematically attacked Christians in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime.

Sunday's bloodbath began at dusk, when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange. Only two guards were injured in the assault, which may have been an attempt by the militants to divert attention from their real target -- the nearby church in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

That attack followed soon afterwards. The gunmen went inside the church and took about 120 Christians hostage.

According to two security officials, most of the deaths were in the basement, where a gunman killed about 30 hostages when Iraqi forces began to storm the building. One official said the gunman set off an explosives vest he was wearing, but the other said the gunman threw two grenades at his hostages. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.



 

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