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Iraq town cancels Christmas after Qaeda threats

ICC Note:

Al-Qaeda threats against Christians in Iraq have persuaded the Chaldean Catholic Church to call off Christmas festivities this year in the northern town of Kirkuk.

12/21/2010 Iraq (AFP) – Al-Qaeda threats against Christians have led to Christmas festivities being cancelled in the northern Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk, its Chaldean Catholic archbishop said on Tuesday.

“The Christians of Kirkuk will not celebrate the feast of Christmas this year, except for masses, which will not be held at night but at 10 am, after myself and 10 other Christian personages received threats from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq,” Monsignor Louis Sarko told AFP.

“I fear that Christians will be targeted, which is why all ceremonies have been cancelled.”

The Iraqi affiliate of Al-Qaeda, the ISI, claimed responsibility for an October 31 attack on a cathedral in Baghdad in which 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel were killed.

It said it acted to force the release of people who had allegedly converted to Islam from Christianity and were being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt. Days later it declared Christians everywhere “legitimate targets.”

Less than two weeks after the church attack, a string of bombings targeting Christian homes and shops in Baghdad killed six more people.

“You would have to be blind not to take seriously the demands of the mujahedeen (holy warriors), and that will cost you dearly,” Sarko quoted an ISI email as saying.

“You must listen to our demands and condemn the Christians in the church in Egypt who are fighting our brothers and sisters who have become Muslims.

Between 800,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam’s regime, but their number has since dropped to about 500,000 as many have fled abroad.

The multi-ethnic oil hub of Kirkuk now has only some 10,000 Christians, compared with 50,000 before the invasion.

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