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Interview-Iraq’s al Qaeda focused on Christian attacks-US

ICC Note:

“Al Qaeda has shifted to try and go after the Christians where they live,” Lieutenant General Robert Cone told Reuters news Agency.

By Serena Chaudhry

1/6/2011 Iraq (Reuters) – Al Qaeda in Iraq is targeting Christians in their homes after Iraqi authorities increased protection around the minority group’s churches, a U.S. commander said on Thursday.

Lieutenant General Robert Cone, the U.S. deputy commanding general for operations in Iraq, said the Sunni Islamist group seemed determined to continue attacks against Christians following a siege of a Catholic cathedral two months ago.

“Al Qaeda has shifted to try and go after the Christians where they live,” Cone told Reuters in an interview.

“Right now they seem to be focused on the Christians,” he said, adding that there was no intelligence to suggest attacks were being planned against other minorities in the country.

A series of bomb attacks on the homes of minority Christians in Baghdad last Thursday killed two people and injured at least 16. The blasts followed an Oct. 31 assault on a Syrian Catholic cathedral in the Iraqi capital in which 52 people were killed.

The Islamic State of Iraq, the local affiliate of al Qaeda, has said Iraqi Christians risk further attacks unless they pressure the Christian church in Egypt to release women it said the church was holding after they had converted to Islam.

On New Year’s Day, a blast outside a church in Egypt’s port city of Alexandria killed up to 23. Islamist radicals have been calling for many months on jihadi websites for attacks on the Egyptian Coptic church.

Cone, whose troops are due to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, said Iraqi security forces were concerned and had increased protection for Christians.

“There are 144 churches in Iraq and they (Iraqi security forces) have assisted in putting up barriers and blast protection,” he said.

“They have directed additional security patrols and police, and in some cases have facilitated even local community watches where Christians live at home.”

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