Scores of Iraqis took to the streets in al-Karada neighbourhood of Baghdad on Monday (November 1st) to condemn the terrorist attack on worshippers at Sayidat al-Nejat Syriac Catholic Church.
"Iraqis, whether Muslims or Christians, Sunnis or Shias, were praying at those hours," said Omar Hardan, 43, a resident of Baghdad. "We were all worshipping and praying to God to deliver Iraq from the grip of terrorism."
Hardan said the extremists "kill in the name of our religion because they are criminals and do not have any way but this, to spill blood," he said. "They are destined to go to hell, and mercy will be for our righteous martyrs."
According to security officials, the attack began at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday (October 31st) when 14 gunmen, including nine wearing explosives vests, tried to storm the building of the Iraqi Stock Exchange in al-Karada.
When security forces rebuffed them, they escaped to Sayidat al-Nejat Church, which is located next to the Stock Exchange building, and fortified themselves inside it.
The gunmen killed a security guard, in addition to Father Thaer Abdul Elah, and Father Waseem Sabeeh, who was giving a sermon to worshippers. The attackers then held the worshippers attending Sunday evening Mass inside the church.
"Two gunmen fired bullets in the air and detonated sound bombs inside the church in the first minutes of the attack," Lt. Col. Abdullah al-Kadhumi of the anti-terrorism unit in Baghdad told Mawtani.
"They also cut off electricity to the church, closed windows and ventilation outlets, and threatened to kill any resistance shown by any of the 147 worshippers, who included 40 women and 19 children under the age of six," al-Kadhumi said.
Iraqi police and army forces surrounded and evacuated the area around the church. Al-Kadhumi said the anti-terrorism unit's elite Golden Platoon tried to storm the church, but retreated after the gunmen threatened to kill all the hostages.
"We were hearing children and women crying and weeping inside the church," al-Kadhumi said.
US forces provided aerial support with video imagery of the church area to track the attackers' movements.
According to al-Kadhumi, the gunmen tried to negotiate with Iraqi forces by demanding the release of terrorist leaders currently detained in Iraqi prisons.
"We told them that Iraq does not negotiate with terrorists, does not accept any conditions from them, and that their only option is to surrender and release all hostages," al-Kadhumi said.
During the negotiations, Iraqi security forces freed 13 hostages after storming a room located near the back alley of the church and helping everyone inside the room escape through a window.
According to Qassim Atta, Baghdad Operations Command spokesman, the terrorists were from different Arab nationalities and "intended to kill all the worshippers inside the church had the security forced not intervened at the right moment."
Iraqi forces ended the hostage situation at 9:00 p.m., when the Golden Platoon unit stormed the church building with Iraqi Special Forces, killing eight terrorists wearing explosives vests and arresting five others.
However, one terrorist managed to detonate his explosives vest inside the hall. The blast killed 51 people, including two priests, women and children, as well as 11 members of the Iraqi security forces. It also wounded 66 people, including 32 members of the security forces.
"This operation has been a real test of the Iraqi security forces' abilities and the extent of their experience in dealing with such difficult situations," said Lt. Col. Khamees Ahmed of the anti-terrorism unit in Baghdad.
"They have passed the test," he said.
Iraqi Minister of Defence Abdul Qadir al-Obeidi supervised the field operation to free the hostages.
"Iraq's policy is not to give in or negotiate the conditions and demands of terrorists," al-Obeidi told mawtani.com. "They must know this well. Any attempt of this sort in the future will completely fail."
Politicians condemned the attack and said it would fail to create discord among Iraqis.
"The attack was intended to sow fitna among Muslims and Christians in Iraq. However, it has certainly failed, because everyone just condemned and renounced it," said Osama al-Nujaifi, leader of Iraqiyoun bloc in the Iraqi parliament.
"The solidarity among Iraqis is stronger than the attempts of terrorism to sow fitna. We will be able to arrest all the terrorists and throw them in prison to ensure that Iraqis' rights are never lost," parliamentarian Hasan al-Saneed said.