Iraq Church Raid Ends With 52 Dead

Fifty-two hostages and police were killed when an attempt by Iraqi security forces to free more than 100 Catholics held in a Baghdad church by al Qaeda-linked gunmen turned into a bloodbath, officials said on Monday.

Church officials described the attack, which began when gunmen seized the Our Lady of Salvation Church during Sunday mass, as the bloodiest against Iraq's Christians in the seven years of sectarian war that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Islamic State of Iraq, the al Qaeda affiliated group which claimed responsibility, also threatened the Christian church in Egypt over its treatment of women the group said it was holding after they had converted to Islam.

Egypt condemned the threat to its Christian community, which makes up about a 10 percent of the North African country's 78 million people. It beefed up security around churches.

Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael, a Christian, said at the scene of the Baghdad attack: ""What happened was more than a catastrophic and tragic event. In my opinion, it is an attempt to force Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq and to empty Iraq of Christians.""

Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal, a deputy interior minister, said 52 hostages and police were killed and 67 wounded in the incident, which ended with police storming the Assyrian Catholic church to free more than 100 hostages.

The death toll was many times higher than that given overnight in the hours after the raid.

At least one bomb exploded at the start of the siege. Sporadic gunfire rang out for several hours over the Karrada neighbourhood near the heavily fortified Green Zone district where many embassies and government offices are located. "