Three priests were among the dozens of people who were killed during an attack on a church in central Baghdad yesterday.
Islamic militants stormed Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic church during Mass yesterday evening and took about 100 worshippers hostage.
According to Church sources in Iraq, three young priests who had been leading the service were killed during the attack. They were Fr Wasim Sabieh, Fr Thaier Saad Abdal and Fr Qatin. Fr Qatin was wounded during the raid and died later in hospital.
One of the freed hostages, who did not give his name, said the first thing the gunmen did when they entered the church was to shoot the priest.
The man, quoted by the Telegraph, said: “They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms. They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest.”
Figures from police released this morning stated that 37 were killed and 56 wounded in the attack, including seven members of the Iraqi security forces.
The church was attacked by nine armed men who had suicide bombs attached to their belts.
Hostages were freed after Iraqi security forces stormed the church.The security forces killed eight of the terrorists during the operation and a ninth died when he activated a suicide bomb.
The terrorists claimed to belong to the Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni militant group closely allied with al-Qaeda.
They were demanding the release of al-Qaeda members being held in Iraq and Egypt.
A statement on the group’s website also demanded the release of Muslim girls from Christian backgrounds who they claimed were being held prisoner in Egyptian Coptic monasteries.
The statement gave 48 hours to release the girls before they blew up the church.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, the national director of ACN (UK), expressed the charity’s concern for suffering Christians in the country.
He said: “Our heart goes out to the persecuted Christians in Iraq following this latest tragedy which has resulted in such a terrible loss of life.
“We are committed to praying for, and to providing aid to, the Church in need in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
“The Iraqi Christian communities have almost been destroyed in recent years. We are committed to standing by our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Aid to the Church in Need has prioritised help for the Middle East since Pope Benedict XVI asked the charity to do more to sustain Christianity in the region – saying “churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence”.
As well as helping Christian refugees in the north of Iraq and Syria, ACN is providing aid for those fleeing to Turkey and Jordan.
Last year ACN provided more than £450,000 in aid for persecuted Christians in Iraq.