Date: June 29, 2013
Gunmen surprise sleeping, off-duty church security guards in rest area. By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, June 28, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Authorities are investigating an attack by gunmen at a church in Baghdad, Iraq this week that wounded two Christian guards, one seriously, according to the parish priest.
The Rev. Martin David of St. Mary’s Assyrian Catholic Church told Morning Star News that on Tuesday (June 25) at 2 a.m. a group of gunmen went to a building on church property where the security guards rest. A guard confronted one of the men, and the gunman opened fire, clipping Raad Mekha, 26, in the leg and hitting Yakoob Zabook, 31, in the stomach.
“Some people came to the room where the guards were sleeping,” David said, “and some shots were fired there, and we had two injured.”
An unwounded guard opened fire and started chasing the gunmen, but they escaped.
All church guards are members of the parish congregation who have volunteered to protect the building, David said, adding that the attack was “shocking.”
“They are like my brothers,” he said. “The younger ones … I feel like they are my children.”
Mekha received hospital treatment and was released, while Zabook remains in serious but stable condition. Doctors expect him to be well enough to go home in about a week, David said.
The motive behind the attack remains unclear, but David said the gunmen didn’t appear to be “terrorists” or trained members of a militia.
“The terrorists, when they come, they kill everyone in the room. We didn’t have any killings there, only small injuries,” he said. “We still don’t know who did it; it is unknown. We don’t know exactly why they came to the church.”
Later the same day, sometime after 7 p.m., bombs were set off at two Christian-owned businesses, the Warda Store on Al Karada Street and the Al Samaah Market, both near the church. The Christian shop owner, Ashur Yonan, a parishioner at St. Mary’s, was killed at the Warda store.
The explosion at the Warda Store came from a car bomb.
“He was placing boxes in front of his shop, and the car came, and he died,” David said.
A Muslim who worked at the store was also killed; his identity has not been released. The bomb at the Al Samaah Market was an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), not planted in a car as some media reports have indicated, according to David. It is unknown if the bombings had any relation to the church attack.
The attacks were just a few in a recent spike in shootings and bombings in Iraq. At least 12 bombings on Monday (June 24) reportedly killed 41 and wounded 125 in restaurants and outdoor markets in Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit. It is estimated that such violence, primarily between Sunni and Shia Muslims, has left more than 2,000 dead since April, according to Asia News.
Since the outbreak of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s Christian population has been roughly cut in half due to emigration and killings, with only 400,000 to 850,000 Christians remaining, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2012 International Religious Freedom report.
Since the invasion, 73 churches have been attacked or bombed, according to the Assyrian International News Agency; 45 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, eight in Kirkuk and one in Ramadi.
Photo: Bombed Warda Store in Baghdad, Iraq. (AINA photo)