Within a fortnight of the end of the Middle-East Synod, there is news out of Baghdad which illustrates what the Iraqi bishops were saying in Rome: that Christians and their churches are easy targets for the foreign terror gangs in Iraq.
Zenit reports that Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul told the Sant'Egidio Community that yesterday afternoon armed men entered the Syrian Catholic cathedral of Baghdad during Mass, after driving a car through the entrance of the basilica.
The priest moved the congregation into a back room. A gunman threw an explosive into the room, which caused many casualties. The gunmen claimed to belong to an organization called 'The Islamic State of Iraq' and called for prisoners to be released.
Iraqi and US security forces stormed the church, and arrested eight gunmen, leaving seven dead and many wounded. According to Iraqi government officials, when police made a first attempt to enter the church earlier in the evening one gunman had blown himself up by activating a suicide belt he was wearing.
More recent reports, including Reuters, are saying that around 50 people died yesterday in the church -- a massacre. The NY Times quotes Iraqi government officials as saying that "at least 30 hostages and 7 security officers were killed, and 41 hostages and 15 security force members were wounded". The report adds:
Hussain Nahidh, a police officer who saw the interior of the church, said: “It’s a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to the hospitals without legs and hands.”
The Telegraph quotes one of the hostages who survived, who claimed the priest was killed: "They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms. They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest." But this doesn't appear in other reports.
In a statement Al-Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, made clear that this was an attack on the church, which it described as "the dirty place of the infidel which Iraqi Christians have long used as a base to fight Islam".
"It is a big massacre, an unjust and unconscionable thing," said a Chaldean auxiliary bishop, Shelmon Warduni, adding: "We pray that God enlighten the minds and the hearts of the terrorists who should think of the good of the people, of their own families and not follow these ways that are not the ways of God but those of the demon."