(Photo: AP Images / Karim Kadim)
The three men connected with the 2010 Our Lady of Salvation church attack in central Baghdad, Iraq, which killed 52 people, have had their death sentences confirmed.
They were initially sentenced to death on Aug. 2, 2011, with an accomplice receiving 20 years in prison, and now the Iraqi appeals court confirmed that the men will be executed for their crimes, AFP reported.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an affiliate of al-Qaida, accepted responsibility for the attacks, where militants stormed the Our Lady of Salvation church on Oct. 31, 2010, and killed 44 worshipers, two priests and seven security guards, as well as wounding dozens of others.
Around 10 militants in total were reported to have attacked the church at 5 p.m. that day, after having carried out another attack on the Baghdad Stock Market earlier on. They took around 120 church-goers hostage, and after a four-hour standoff with Iraqi police, they set off explosions when security forces stormed the church at around 9 p.m. Five of the attackers were killed in the blast.
International condemnation followed the attacks, which put the spotlight on the persecution and trials Christians living in Iraq go through – some reports suggest that their lives since the Our Lady of Salvation attacks have even gotten worse.
There are around 500,000 Christians living in Iraq, with their numbers decreasing each year, Minority Rights Group International revealed. A USA Today report suggested that numbers have decreased by two-thirds since 2003, amid other church attacks and assassinations of priests.
Christmas season is a particularly dangerous period for the Christian minority in the Middle East, where they are often not allowed to raise church buildings and house churches often experience raids and harassment. They are often targeted for their faith, and women are forced to wear head-scarves to protect themselves from attacks. One archbishop, Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the northern provinces of Kirkuk and Sulimaniya, even warned that "Iraq could be "emptied of Christians" completely, if the persecution continues with such intensity.
It is likely that Our Lady of Salvation church attackers will receive death by hanging, which is a widely used form of capital punishment in Iraq.