Iraq forces release Christian hostages, kill militants
Iraqi Christians who were held hostage by militants in a Baghdad church Sunday were released after Iraqi forces stormed the building and killed the four militants, a parliamentarian said.
One of the hostages was killed in the process, which took place after forces managed to secure the release of 19 nuns, Iraqi Christian parliamentarian Yonadem Kana told the German Press Agency dpa.
Members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq had taken the hostages inside the Syrian Catholic church in central Baghdad earlier Sunday.
Witnesses told dpa that the church was targeted during the Sunday service, adding that the sound of gunfire could be heard across al-Karrada, a mixed Shiite-Christian neighbourhood.
"An armed attack targeted the Sayedat al-Najah Church in al-Karrada," Qassem Atta, spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command, said earlier.
The militants were demanding the release of al-Qaeda members in Iraq and Egypt, Al-Baghdadiya TV reported.
It was not clear how many people had been held, but women and children were reportedly among the hostages.
"Churches used to be attacked in this neighbourhood, but not recently," said one of the area's residents. "We are not used to this anymore."
An armed group of gunmen tried to raid nearby Baghdad Capital Market on Sunday evening using stun bombs, Aswat al-Iraq news agency reported.
The market guards withstood the attack, and the gunmen withdrew in the direction of Sayedat al-Najah Church.
Sources at the Interior Ministry only confirmed that four people were injured earlier when two bombs went off consecutively outside the church. No further details were available.
Security officials said the Baghdad Capital Market had now been secured and was ready to resume business, al-Baghdadiya TV reported.
Iraqi Christians faced sectarian attacks and death threats after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The United Nations Human Rights Council estimates that around 50 per cent of Iraq's Christians have fled the country since then.
Iraq has seen increased violence in recent months, as the stalled process of government formation drags into its eighth month.
On Sunday morning, six people were killed and four injured in a car bomb attack in northern Baghdad, a police source said.
"A car parked in a garage near a police station exploded, killing six people, including policemen, and injuring four others," the source said.