Wed, Jan 05, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Survivor of bloody Iraqi church siege killed in robbery

AP, BAGHDAD

Rafah Toma survived one of the most horrific attacks on Iraq’s tiny Christian community — the siege on a Baghdad church two months ago that left 68 people dead — only to be gunned down in her home on Monday by thieves stealing her cash and jewelry.

It was not immediately clear whether Toma’s death was the latest attack to target Iraq’s beleaguered Christians, or instead another of the brutal robberies that have become commonplace for all Iraqis, Muslim and Christian alike.

The priest that found her battered body, Father Mukhlis, serves at the Our Lady of Salvation church where more than 120 people were taken hostage on Oct. 31 after gunmen stormed the building during an evening Mass. He said that Toma, who was in her 50s, was one of the parishioners at Mass that evening.

“It was her fate to not die in the attack on the church, but to die by gunmen who killed her to steal her gold and money,” he said. “Christians face a tragedy in this country.”

Mukhlis went to her house after receiving a worried phone call from Toma’s sister saying she hadn’t been able to get in touch with Toma. She urged the priest to check in on Toma, as he does with many of his congregants who are now often scared to leave their homes for fear of attacks.

Mukhlis said he walked into Toma’s house and found her lying on the kitchen floor, blood pooled on the ground from what he thought was a strike to the head. A police officer said she had also been shot.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraqi Christians have suffered repeated violence and harassment from Sunni Muslim extremists who view them as infidels and agents of the West, but since the church siege, the dwindling community is feeling itself even more of a target.

“As Christians, we feel we’ve been sentenced to death, and we’re waiting for an execution day,” said George Abdul Ahad, a 55-year-old Christian from Baghdad.

Like thousands of other Christians, he’s thinking of leaving the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 1,000 families have fled to areas in northern Iraq under Kurdish control, a region generally much more peaceful than the rest of Iraq, since the church attack. The agency said growing numbers of other Iraqi Christians were arriving in nearby countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon and contacting the UNHCR for help.

There are no reliable figures on how many Christians remain in this nation of about 29 million. A US Department of State report says Christian leaders estimate 400,000 to 600,000 remain, down from a prewar level of as high as 1.4 million by some estimates.

Also on Monday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car near a government building in the center of the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba, killing one passer-by and wounding 33 people, police and hospital officals said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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