At least seven churchgoers were killed Sunday after about a dozen Islamic militants took their congregation hostage for several hours.
In total, as many as 50 people – including hostages, Iraqi security officers, and militants – were killed in the aftermath, but initial reports on the death toll were largely conflicting. More than 30 people at the Our Lady of Deliverance Church were also reportedly wounded after some explosives the militants were wearing went off as Iraqi authorities sought to resolve the standoff, which began shortly after 5 p.m.
The militants, allegedly linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, were demanding the release of imprisoned female insurgents when security forces stormed the building.
According to reports, the ten or so militants stormed the church wearing suicide vests after attacking the Baghdad Stock Market in the central part of the Iraqi capital earlier in the day. As many as 120 Iraqi Christians were in the church at the time, reportedly listening to a Bible reading as a service got underway.
Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obeidi said "the terrorists were planning to murder the highest number of hostages."
"All the marks point out that this incident carries the fingerprints of al Qaeda," he added Sunday on state television.
Across Iraq, security forces were alerted to new threats against Christians.
The Islamic State of Iraq, which later claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement posted on a radical Islamic website, said it would "exterminate Iraqi Christians" if Muslim women are not freed within 48 hours from ministries and churches run by the Christian Coptic church in Egypt.
The group is linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.