In Grief and Defiance, Baghdad’s Christians Return to Scene of Attack
One week ago Our Lady of Salvation, a Syrian Catholic church, was the scene of the worst attack on Iraqi Christians since the American-led invasion in 2003. Gunmen in explosive suicide vests jumped the church’s security wall and took more than 100 worshipers hostage, identifying themselves as members of the Islamic State of Iraq, a Qaeda-linked terrorist group. It began a night of bloodshed in which 51 worshipers and two priests were killed. The terrorist group promised more attacks, declaring Christians everywhere “legitimate targets.”
On Sunday the congregation filed into a sanctuary riddled with bullet holes, with bloodstains on the 30-foot-high ceiling from the blast of a suicide vest that left six ornate crystal chandeliers eerily undamaged. In place of the scarred pews was a giant cross on the floor outlined in candles and filled with 51 sheets of paper, each bearing the name of one of the dead. Photographs of the two priests were placed around the church.
For many in the crowd of more than 150, it was their first time back since the massacre. Husan Sabah, 20, said he had been afraid to come. “I’m terrified now, seeing blood on the walls,” he said, adding that he had recurrent nightmares in the past week. During the attack, Mr. Sabah said, he hid inside a cabinet holding a small child, waiting for the attackers to discover him or explode a bomb that would kill him. His brother was shot in the chest, but survived.
On Sunday he returned, Mr. Sabah said, because he was unable to finish his prayers the previous week. “We have to finish them,” he said.
Now, Mr. Sabah wants to leave Iraq. “In my neighborhood they all hate me,” he said. “When you see people on the streets, they say, ‘Why are you still here? You should leave.’ Every day I hear of people leaving.”
To the priests and the congregants on Sunday, many attending from other churches or mosques, the victims of the attack were martyrs, or shohada — an Arabic word commonly used here to describe both suicide bombers and their victims, as if to impose meaning on violence that feels empty of meaning.