Clergy believe attacks were religiously motivated.
ISTANBUL, April 28 (Compass Direct News) – Gunmen in Iraq shot five Chaldean Catholic Christians in their Kirkuk homes on Sunday (April 26) in two separate attacks, killing three and injuring two.
Cousins Suzan Latif David and Muna Banna David were killed at 10 p.m. in a suburb of the northern Iraqi city. Within a few minutes, Yousif Shaba and his sons Thamir and Basil were also shot in the same area, leaving the 17-year-old Basil dead. Yousif Shaba and Thamir were in critical condition.
Police have not stated if the two attacks were related, but they confirmed the arrest of nine men linked with the assault, a source told Compass. One of them is from the former insurgent stronghold of Ramadi and has suspected links to Al Qaeda.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako said the attacks aimed to split the community. Yesterday he presided over the murder victims’ funeral, which the city police chief and provincial governor also attended.
“The main object of these crimes is to create chaos and promote strife and division among the people of Kirkuk,” Sako said, according to Reuters. “I call on Christians not to be jarred by these crimes and stay in Kirkuk. We are sons of this city.”
Kirkuk Province Gov. Abdul Rahman Mustafa echoed the archbishop’s comments, calling on Kirkuk’s citizens to stand united against the terrorists.
Violence has struck the nation’s Christian community particularly hard since the Iraq war began in 2003. Left mostly defenseless in sectarian violence, Christians have been targeted for kidnapping under the assumption that they can garner a large ransom.
Chaldean Christians have been hardest hit in the northern city of Mosul, where thousands of families have fled since an uptick in violence started last October. Some locals believe Kurdish groups are trying to intimidate them into leaving so they can incorporate the city into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
But Kirkuk has largely avoided the sectarian bloodshed of the region. For this reason clergy believe the five Christians were targeted purely for their religion.
“They were peaceful Christian families, not involved in any political affiliation or such activities,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana of Christian Aid Program Nohadra Iraq, a local humanitarian organization. “What were they involved in that they be targeted in such a brutal way?
He added that most locals believe the two attacks were coordinated in order to terrorize Christians, as they occurred only a few minutes apart from each other.
“It was not just an accident that the two attacks happened in the same city on the same day at the same time,” he said.
The oil-rich city of Kirkuk has been caught in a tug-of-war between its Arab and Kurdish residents. Arabs were resettled there during Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Kurds have been moving back to reclaim the homes from which they were forcibly expelled.
But other groups have criticized Kurds for their massive immigration, charging that it is a means to annex the city – and its oil wealth – into the Kurdish region. Kirkuk has a small population of native Christians, with many moving here in recent decades to work in the oil industry. The Christian population is approximately 7,000.
Local police and officials have blamed Al Qaeda for the murders. Fr. Youkhana said there has been no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement, but that “for sure” it was a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attack. He said security forces are often quick to blame foreign-based Al Qaeda rather than call attention to a violent, homegrown organization.
An Eastern rite denomination in communion with Rome, the Chaldean Catholic Church is Iraq’s largest Christian community.
Report from Compass Direct News