On Monday, August 2, a terrorist group in Iraq claimed responsibility for the series of church bombings this Sunday, and said the Christian-targeted attacks were done in response to U.S.’s “crusader war” against Islam.
On Sunday, when the bombings occurred outside five churches, authorities accused al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for the violence. However, a little-known Islamic militant group that calls itself the “Planning and Follow-Up Organization” claimed responsibility for the attacks on a statement posted online; it is not yet known whether or not the organization, which has placed several claims on thier website in the past few months, is related to al-Zarqawi.
In the bitter statement, the group charged the U.S. of going on an evangelistic war against the Muslim majority in Iraq.
"You wanted a crusader war, so these are the results. ... We warned you," the statement read. "We were able Sunday to direct several painful strikes at the dens of evil, corruption, immorality and evangelization."
The “Planning and Follow Up Organization” justified its barbaric acts by accusing the U.S. of forcefully proselytizing Muslims in Iraq.
"America didn't only occupy and militarily sweep Muslim countries, it also set up hundreds of evangelization organizations and printed books about the Holocaust and distributed them in Muslim countries to wrench Muslims from their religion and make them Christians," the statement said.
Oddly, none of the five churches hit by the suicide bombers were established by foreigners. The churches – two Assyrian and two Armenian churches and a monastery – were a part of Iraqi history even before Operation Iraq Freedom launched last year.
"The wars now in Iraq and Afghanistan are hateful crusader wars against Muslims by America and its minions, with the blessing of the Pope who has the leaders of America between his hands like slaves," the statement said.
Despite the group’s claims, the Iraqi officials held onto their initial hunch that Zarqawi was behind the attacks. Either way, officials said the Islamic fundamentalists are using violence as a way to plant fear within Christians and hatred among Christians and Muslims – two groups that traditionally lived in peace.
"Zarqawi and his extremists are basically trying to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians in Iraq. It's clear they want to drive Christians out of the country," said national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie.
The terrorists, however, failed in their attempt to divide the nation; Christians and Muslims alike condemned the attacks and remained in strong solidarity.
"We reject these criminal acts which want to create religious and sectarian strife in Iraq," said Adnan al-Asadi, senior member of the Shi’ite Dawa Islamic party.
"We condemn and reproach these hideous crimes and deem necessary the collaboration of everyone--the government and the people--in putting an end to aggression on Iraqis,” said Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a top religious authority in Iraq. "We assert the importance of respecting the rights of Christian civilians and other religious minorities and reaffirm their right to live in their home country Iraq in security and peace.”
“We strongly condemn all forms of violence which target religious communities or any group of people, and which seek to introduce religious enmity into this conflict,” said Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.
The General Secretariat of the Middle East Council of Churches, whose office in Baghdad suffered minor damage from the bombings, also called the terrorist attack an “evil effort to divide Iraqi Muslims and Christians who are bound together in citizenship and who share a common history.”
“In full solidarity with the Iraqi churches, the council prays that God Almighty will shed his mercy upon the victims of these atrocities in Iraq and restore peace to the land,” the MECC wrote in an August 2 statement.