Iraqis defy threats to pack massacre church on Xmas | world | Hindustan Times
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Iraqis defy threats to pack massacre church on Xmas

world Updated: Dec 25, 2010 19:49 IST
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Hundreds of Christians packed Our Lady of Salvation for Christmas church mass on Saturday, defying threats of attacks less than two months after militants massacred worshippers and priests there.

Security was extremely tight, with forces armed with pistols and assault rifles guarding the area, and a 10-foot high (three-metre) concrete wall topped with gleaming razor wire surrounding the church.

All cars coming into the area were searched, and worshippers were patted down twice before being allowed to enter the church.

The mood was sombre as worshippers reflected on an October 31 attack claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq in which gunmen stormed the church, leaving two priests, 44 worshippers and seven security personnel dead.

The church, which was filled by more than 300 worshippers, still bears visible signs of the attack, with the walls pockmarked from bullets and the destroyed wooden pews replaced with plastic and metal chairs.

The attack has left many reeling.

"Last year, we were all gathering" for Christmas, said Uday Saadallah Abdal. But "this year, I went to the house, and I saw it was empty... I was crying all night, because no one was here anymore," he said.

The 28-year-old said two of his brothers were killed in the attack -- one of the priests, Father Thair, and another brother Raed. His mother was also shot three times, and is hospitalised in France.

"I feel that their souls are still there in the church; that is why I came. They encourage me to come here despite all the danger and threats," Abdal said of his brothers.

"We are afraid, but despite that, we are coming" for mass, Rana Nikhail said before the service. "We have to be here, because it is the birthday of the Messiah." But "we cannot feel happy because tears are in our eyes, and people we love are not with us anymore," the 35-year-old said.

Ten days after the deadly siege, a string of attacks targeted the homes of Christians in Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 33 others. Iraqi Christians have also received threats.

Chaldean Catholic archbishop Monsignor Louis Sarko in Kirkuk said on Tuesday that he "and 10 other Christian personages received threats from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq." Syrian Catholic Archbishop Matti Motaka called for people to maintain hope despite all the hardship. "Our message is for people not to give up and to have hope in this life," Motaka said after the mass.