Breaking news quickly passes into “archive”; but days, weeks, and sometimes years may be required, to reconstruct what actually happened. Sometimes there are no survivors of a crime or catastrophe, and no testimony to work with, beyond what forensic specialists can provide. But humans are not that easy to kill, and there are usually a few accusers left about.
On Sunday, Oct. 31, during Mass, Islamist terrorists attacked the main Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad—the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. While there have been persistent and increasing attacks on Christians, as well as on other religious minorities, all over the Muslim world, this one was especially notable, and deserved far more sustained press coverage. Many details are only now emerging, from the wounded who were flown out of Iraq to Rome, and other European cities, for medical treatment.
The attack was sustained over five hours. Iraqi military authorities had the church surrounded for most of this time; American-made helicopters buzzed overhead. But, rather than risk the lives of soldiers, the authorities were content to simply contain the massacre.
It had begun with a diversionary strike against the Baghdad stock exchange, across the street: two of its guards were killed. Those inside the church could hear the automatic rifle fire, which began towards the end of the homily. Congregants were at first relieved that the attack did not seem to be directed at the church. Its entrances were blocked, the main wooden door barricaded.
A jeep parked outside the church then exploded, and a brigade of jihadis, in Iraqi army uniforms, burst through the main entrance commando-style. First one priest—a Father Wasim, among those trying to hold the door—shouted, “Leave them alone, take me!” He was immediately shot. A Father Thair then shouted from the altar, likewise, “Leave them alone, take me!” and was likewise annihilated.
While this was happening, a Father Raphael succeeded in herding about 70 of the faithful into the sacristy, and blocking its door. In due course the jihadis found it had a small high window, and tossed grenades through that; others amused themselves by firing bullets through the door.
In the cathedral proper, the jihadis used the central crucifix for target practice, while shouting in mockery, “Come on, tell Him to save you!” At their leisure, they executed the men of the congregation, while terrorizing the women and children in various other ways. They shot the arms off a couple of girls who tried to use cellphones; they shot babies who were crying. And in classical Arabic, with Egyptian and Syrian accents, they declared: “We are going to heaven, and you are going to hell. Allah is great!”
At their leisure, for over the five hours they twice stopped for formal Islamic prayers. They were also able to place bombs around the cathedral, for the purpose of blowing it up at the end, but owing to faulty wiring these did not go off. Survivors, in the accounts I’ve seen in Italian media, say the jihadis eventually ran out of bullets, and then began calling for the bombs to be detonated. They had several colleagues stationed on the roof, orchestrating their affair; unmolested by the troops surrounding the church. Two of the jihadis with suicide belts managed to blow themselves up.
Finally, the Iraqi troops went into action. The dead were now counted; the wounded removed to area hospitals where friends and relatives were already making their hysterical inquiries. The church was now “secured,” so that passersby could not get a view of the devastation inside it.
My reader may get far more detail through patient Internet searching. The facts mentioned above seem incontestable. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream reporting came down to “58 killed and a larger number wounded.” There were some insulting editorials, which generically condemned “religious intolerance,” thus putting murderers and victims on the same level.
The exodus of Christians from Iraq is, by now, more or less common knowledge. Within Iraq itself, there is a movement from such cities as Baghdad and Mosul—which once had large Christian populations—to safer territory in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Throughout the Middle East, from countries that remained majority Christian long after the Islamic conquests of the seventh century, the exodus of the last Christians is proceeding. In Palestine, entirely Christian towns such as Bethlehem have been, quite recently, Islamicized. In Lebanon—itself established as a Christian enclave—Hezbollah has largely taken over. The Coptic Christians of Egypt, who still number in their millions, suffer frequent violent attacks. Et cetera.
There were once Jews all over the Middle East; now they are down to Israel only, whose very right to exist is challenged. Christians are now following the Jews into exile or extinction. But in the West, we just don’t want to know.