Baghdad Catholic Massacre: Death Toll Reaches 58

6c52128c25b22f50d81e2bea3219106f1.jpg58 people were killed and over 60 wounded on Sunday in Baghdad’s Sayidat al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation) Church, most of them from the Chaldean Catholic community, in a massacre carried out by militants, some of whom claimed to be avenging a foiled move by a small-town US pastor to burn the Qur’an.
 Flesh-and-Blood Bath
 The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant organization connected to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, took credit on their website, calling the church “the dirty den of idolatry” and saying that the fuse of a campaign against Iraqi Christians had been lit.
 Witnesses said gunmen burst through the cathedral’s huge wooden doors and began screaming: “All of you are infidels! We are here to avenge the burning of the Qur’ans and the jailing of Muslim women in Egypt!”
 The Iraqi antiterrorist unit, known as the Golden Force, which has been criticized for not being able to stop attacks, moved quickly to end the siege. Its forces swarmed the church by helicopter and sent in grenades and smoke grenades, but were rebuffed by the terrorists.
 As soon as soldiers stormed the church in the early evening after close to 100 hostages had been taken captive, the scene turned into a bloodbath. Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, the minister of defense, said most of the hostages were killed or wounded when the terrorists set off at least two suicide vests as they took over the church. 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 attack came two days after a suicide attack at a cafe in Diyala Province killed 21 people, the worst assault in more than a month, and as members of Iraq’s four political blocs planned to meet in the heavily fortified Green Zone to try to break the impasse that has left Iraq without a new government nearly eight months after the national election.
 The church, with a huge cross visible from hundreds of yards away, was already surrounded with concrete bollards and razor wire, and church leaders have been fearful of attack since the Rev. Terry Jones in Gainesville, Fla., threatened to burn a Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Mr. Jones ultimately decided not to burn the Koran.
 The Chaldean bishop of Baghdad, Bishop Shlimoune Wardouni earlier said that gunmen were demanding the release of Al Qaeda detainees held in Iraq and Egypt and that two priests were among the hostages. The Vatican expressed regret over the hostage drama and called for a swift resolution. “It’s a very sad situation, which confirms the difficult situation in which Christians live in the country,” Father Federico Lombardi said.
 About 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq in 2003 but their number has since shrunk to 550,000 as members of the community have fled abroad, Christian leaders say.
 Deadly Premonitions
 According to New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, seven weeks before he died, Father Thaer Abdal was standing beside the gnarled stone grotto to the Virgin Mary in Sayidat al-Nejat church, an extremely worried man because thousands of miles away in Gainesville, Fla., the Rev. Terry Jones, was planning to burn a Koran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Father Thaer was afraid that after a period of relative calm for his parishioners, Christians in Iraq were about to be targeted again.
 Although the Koran-burning had been canceled, anti-Christian hatred had already been stirred by the widespread advance publicity, and the Iraqi priest’s fears proved correct.
 Standing beneath the crucifix the priest told Farrell that although his congregation had “witnessed very improved security” in recent years, half his parishioners had already left the country, and he was worried that the threatened Koran-burning could prove to be as damaging to Christian-Muslim relations as the 2005 Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
 “Perhaps the man who is doing this is trying to take advantage of it to become famous, or to start a war between Muslims and Christians,” Father Thaer said of Rev. Jones, whose threat had been condemned internationally and by President Obama and residents in his Florida hometown.
 “I would like to send a message to the pastor who is in America; he lives in a society that protects humans and religious beliefs. Why would he want to harm Christians in Iraq? This is dangerous. He should realize that we live in cultures of various denominations, especially in Iraq