A car bomb attack upon a Catholic church in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk has injured 23 people – two critically.
The bomb was exploded outside the Holy Family Syro-Catholic Church at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 2. At the same time security forces disabled two other similar car bombs parked outside two other Christian churches in northern Iraqi city.
“The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail,” local priest, Father Haithem Akram, told Associated Press.
“We are staying in our country. The Iraqi Christians are easy targets because they do not have militias to protect them. The terrorists want to terrorize us, but they will fail.”
The bomb damaged both the church and nearby houses. The parish priest, Father Imad Yalda, was the only person inside the church at the time and was hurt in the blast. The other 22 wounded were local residents.
The attack comes at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Islamic militants are thought to be responsible.
“I was shocked, I visited the neighborhood and the hospital and many people were crying. It is sad because this is supposed to be a month of fasting and prayer, to do good things. We are shocked and really sad,” Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told Vatican Radio.
The bombing is only the latest in a prolonged campaign of violence against Christians in Iraq.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003 it is estimated that nearly 1 million Christians have fled the country. Many have also relocated to northern cities such as Kirkuk and Erbil which are usually regarded as safer due to having larger Christian communities.
“We were not expecting such actions against Christians. But I think that this is political also, security is still not the best,” said Archbishop Sako.
“We are trying to bridge relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Many, many people have called me condemning this. I will ask the imams, the Shia and Sunni imams to speak about this inhuman attack and to condemn it telling people it is against God and against religion.”
The attack comes on the day that three men were sentenced to death in Baghdad for their role in a church siege last October that killed 68 people. A fourth man was sentenced to 20 years.
The raid on the Our Lady of Salvation Church is the deadliest single attack on Iraqi Christians so far. Islamic militants burst into the church during Mass whereupon they shot both priests and parishioners before detonating explosive suicide vests.
The four men stood accused of both masterminding and preparing the attack. They have a month to appeal their sentences.