By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife) — Iraq said Saturday, November 27, that its security forces have detained a dozen militants suspected of helping take Christians hostage in a church siege that killed scores of worshipers and two priests last month.
“Police have arrested 12 members of the group responsible for the attack against the church,” French News Agency AFP quoted the official as saying, speaking on condition of anonymity and without specifying when they were detained.
At least 44 worshipers, two priests and seven security force personnel were killed during the October 31 seizure of a Baghdad cathedral and ensuing shoot-out when it was stormed by troops.
A group linked to Al-Qaeda said it launched the church attack to force the release of converts to Islam allegedly being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt. Days later it declared Christians everywhere “legitimate targets.”
Cairo-based satellite TV channel Al-Baghdadiya said it had shut its Iraq operations after its broadcasts were cut for airing the
demands of the militants who launched the church attack.
Saturday’s reported arrests came just days after two Iraqi Christian brothers were gunned down Monday, November 22, inside their vehicle workshop in the volatile northern city of Mosul, police said. Saad Hanna, 43, and Waad Hanna, 40, were shot dead after a series of other anti-Christian attacks in the city, 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Baghdad.
Christians in the region earlier mourned a Christian father and his 6-year-old daughter Wednesday, November 17, after they were killed in a bomb attack. The man and his daughter were killed late Tuesday, November 16, in Mosul when an explosive attached to a vehicle detonated, Christians said.
The previous night, attackers went into two Christian homes in the Tahrir neighborhood, killing the male heads of the households and then driving off, according to local Christians. At about the same time, another bomb detonated outside a Christian home, wounding a bystander, church leaders said.
Earlier this month, a series of bomb and mortar attacks targeted the homes and businesses of Christians in the capital Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 33 and drawing international condemnation.
Between 7500,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003, but their number has since shrunk to around half a million or less following attacks against their community and places of worship, according to church observers.
The number of Christians in Baghdad has now dwindled to around 150,000, a third of their former population in the capital, news reports said.
Pope Benedict XVI has expressed concerns about Iraq’s beleaguered Christian community and urged for religious freedom worldwide. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).