Fifty-two hostages and police officers were killed on Sunday when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics held by al Qaeda-linked gunmen,a deputy interior minister said.
Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal said on Monday that 67 people were also wounded.
Gunmen took hostages at the Our Lady of Salvation Church,one of Baghdad’s largest,during Sunday mass and demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.
This death toll is for civilians and security force members. We don’t differentiate between police and civilians. They are all Iraqis,Kamal said,adding the number did not include dead attackers.
Sporadic gunfire rang out for several hours over the Karrada neighbourhood near the heavily fortified Green Zone district where many embassies and government offices are located. U.S. and Iraqi military helicopters thundered overhead as security forces cordoned off the area.
Witnesses told local television armed men,possibly wearing suicide vests,stormed the church on Sunday and shot at least one priest dead. Officials said they threatened to kill the 120 hostages held inside unless al Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt were released.
Al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate,the Islamic State of Iraq,claimed responsibility for the attack on the dirty den of idolatry.
It said in a statement posted on radical Islamic websites that it was an action against the Coptic church in Egypt.
The attack and the bombing of a cafe in Diyala province on Friday in which 22 people died interrupted a relatively long period without a major assault by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents.
A federal police source who declined to be identified said the rescue operation was extremely difficult.
The attackers were among children,armed with weapons,the source said. Most of the casualties were killed or wounded when the security forces raided the place.
Officials say some of the attackers blew up their explosives vests or threw grenades during the raid.
The last high-profile suicide bombing took place on Sept. 5 when insurgents stormed an army base in Baghdad.
Violence has fallen sharply in Iraq since the height of sectarian bloodshed in 2006-07 but attacks by Sunni insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Shi’ite militia continue daily.
The failure of Iraqi leaders to agree on a new government almost eight months after an inconclusive election has stoked tensions just as U.S. forces cut back their presence and end combat operations ahead of a full withdrawal next year.