IRAQ/ "Please Help Us! We Are Christians!"
Church attacked in Iraq
The survivors of the carnage in Baghdad's Syriac-Catholic cathedral have begun to recount the "savage" attack -- the largest strike against Iraqi Christians of any kind since the 2003 US-led invasion. Here, from the LA Times:
Around 5:20 p.m., as the Christian worshipers stood and recited "Upon this rock I will build my church," the gunfire started on the street outside. Father Thar advised everyone to stay seated and to keep praying, but Madeline Mikhal and others rushed from their pews.
Suddenly a large explosion rocked Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Bullets whistled by. Some worshipers ran to the church basement. Mikhal darted into the priests' changing room. A barrage of bullets thundered in the main hall.
Many parishioners dived beneath the pews seeking cover. But the dozen or so gunmen, some wearing vests covered with explosives and carrying grenades and other weapons, took aim at the scrambling congregation. "Those who couldn't find a place to hide were killed," Mikhal said.
She was among more than 70 people who pressed together in the priests' dressing room. The group blocked the door with a dresser, and knocked out the fluorescent lights and waited in the dark. One of the priests, Father Rafael, had taken shelter with them. Mikhal spotted Baan Selim, a relative through marriage. "Oh Mary, Christ, God, please protect us," they whispered and sobbed....
For survivors like Mikhal and Selim, who swore Monday that they would never again step foot in an Iraqi church, the immediate goal was finding a way to leave the country. The place they loved, a place of faith and rebirth, their sanctuary, had been infected by Iraq's death and bloodshed.
An hour into the attack, militants inside the church roared, "God is great! God is great!" A fresh explosion jolted the building. Screams rang out.
Selim thought a suicide bomber had blown himself up. Mikhal was near Selim and tried to calm her with prayers. People started crying in their hiding place and the gunmen discovered them. Someone lobbed a grenade into the middle of the room.
The explosion left blood everywhere. Some people slumped to the floor. Father Rafael, who shielded Mikhal from the shrapnel, was badly wounded. "He protected me," she said. The priest, despite injuries that later required major surgery, remained standing. "He was encouraging us," Selim said. "He told us to please pray. He never sat down."
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