Amnesty International Condemns Killing of Civilian Hostages in Iraq Church as ‘A War Crime’

(New York) -- Amnesty International today condemned Sunday's "shameless" attack on civilian hostages in a Catholic church in Baghdad, calling it "nothing less than a war crime."

“We utterly condemn this shameless targeting of civilians by an armed group in a place of worship,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

One hundred worshippers were taken hostage and more than 40 were then killed.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an armed group linked to al-Qa’ida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack in Baghdad’s Karrada district.

Following a three-hour stand-off, Iraqi security forces stormed the church in an attempt to free the hostages, after those holding them reportedly threatened to kill them.

“The attack seems to have been intended to cause maximum loss of life and to further inflame the sectarian divide that continues to wrack Iraq,” said Smart. “It is nothing less than a war crime to deliberately attack civilians in their place of worship, hold them hostage and kill them.”

The hostage-takers are said to have demanded the release of prisoners held in Iraq and Egypt, and to have used grenades and detonated suicide belts to kill hostages when the security forces sought to free them.

The hostage crisis was one of the worst such attacks by armed groups on Iraqi Christians since the start of the war on Iraq in 2003.  Iraqi Christians have frequently been targeted for kidnapping and killing, and many churches have been subject to bomb attacks.

Iraq remains at a political impasse and a new government has yet to be formed eight months after the national elections in March. Armed groups are exploiting the power and security vacuum by intensifying their attacks on government, U.S. military and civilian targets.

The plight of Iraqi civilians was investigated by Amnesty International in the April 2010 report, Iraq: Civilians Under Fire.  Iraqi civilians continue to bear the brunt of the sectarian conflict, with religious and ethnic minorities, women and girls, and political activists especially targeted.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150,