Seven Iraqi Christians were killed almost instantly, when their vehicle was sprayed with gunfire, a UK-based news agency reported Tuesday. The murders were the latest deadly attack against Iraq's Christians, which began soon after the "liberation" by the United States and Britain. So far, 110 have been killed.
According to the Independent news agency, the victims were making their way back home from work when the tires of their automobile were shredded by a burst of gunfire. Four masked men then slid open the door of the automobile and fired on the occupants with assault rifles. Seven were killed almost instantly, while two others escaped with only injuries.
The Iraqi police and American forces turned up at the scene of the shooting, but the families of the victims say they do not expect anyone to be arrested.
Among the dead were Emanuel Markus, 42, and his 16-year-old son, Maradona. Another son, Elias, 17, who was shot in the arm, reportedly fled the family home, terrified and traumatized by the incident.
The remaining seven members of the family, all women, now have to survive in an Iraq where work is scarce for all, and even more so for working-class women.
"I know it is going to be very hard, but I cannot think about that now," said Kisno Markus, wife of Emanuel Markus. "I have looked at the dead faces of my husband and my son, and that is what keeps on going through my mind.”
"My other son, Elias, has gone to Zakha, the last village in Iraq before you get to Turkey,” she continued. “That is how frightened he is. We are frightened as well. We must leave. We cannot afford to go abroad right now, but we are moving to stay with relations in another part of Baghdad. We are all very scared."
Across the street, 50-year-old Khuki Elias Kreto mourned her son, Nabin, aged 25. "He was my only boy - the only one - and they took him away," she said. "What kind of people are these? My son was so quiet that the neighbors said they did not even know when he was in the house. He has never harmed anyone."
Another victim, Emir Shabo Gorgis, supported his wife, six children, an elderly father and his sister on basic pay of $10 a week. "He had worked very hard all his life," said his widow, 27-year-old Ilhan. "We never got involved in politics. We have good Muslim friends and neighbors. I do not know why there is so much hatred."
Sources have reported that Christians are often targeted in Iraq's thriving abduction industry because they are perceived as being well off.
Samir Sajouri, 33, who was kidnapped from his furniture shop and held for a week until his family paid a ransom of $35,000, told the Independent "We did not have the money. My wife had to sell stock and borrow to pay this. I was treated very badly by the men who had kidnapped me. They beat me and kicked me. There were always insults because I am a Christian. It is strange - 90 percent of those I employed were Muslims.”
Now, like the many other Christians who have fled Iraq, Sajouri is taking his wife and three children to Jordan.
Father Butros Haddad of the Church of the Holy Rosary in Karada said, "Every day I hear about one or two families leaving from this parish and others. I have been a priest for 35 years and I have never seen the community face such a time of lawlessness.”
“It is not bad just for the Christians,” Haddad added. “Our fellow Iraqis - Muslims - are also suffering. But on top of all other troubles, the Christians feel they are being especially targeted. The problem is that the Americans don't seem to be able to do anything about security. There is a sense of terrible fear."
After the string of church bombings in August and September, Iraqi government and church officials estimate that anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 Christians have fled the country. And they admit that hundreds more families out of Iraq’s 750,000 Christians are leaving each week.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has disputed these figures, saying they are too high. Yet UNHCR offices in Amman and Damascus admit that it is hard to know exactly how many Iraqi Christians are currently in Jordan and Syria.
Syrian authorities, however, estimate there are about 300,000 Iraqis in the country.