Christians in Northern Iraq Reportedly Facing Intimidation

Chaldean Priest Points to Wahabi Extremists

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MOSUL, Iraq, NOV. 17, 2003 ( Christian communities in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul are facing serious acts of intimidation, says Fides, the news agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

«Last week a bomb was found in front of a Catholic school in Mosul; luckily it was defused before it could explode,» Chaldean Catholic priest Father Nizar Semaan told Fides.

«The bomb was a cluster of low [powered] hand grenades, but it could have killed or injured the children,» he said. «For security reasons the school was closed for a good week.»

«Also last week a round from a Kalashnikov was fired against the residence of the Syro-Antiochian bishop in my city,» the priest added. «This is probably the work of Wahabi extremists in Mosul.» Wahabi Muslims are a puritanical sect from Saudi Arabia.

«With these actions of intimidation extremists want to demonstrate their power, and what is more serious, to prevent the civil society from returning to normality,» Father Semaan said. «In Mosul, in fact, work is being done to repair roads and public buildings such as schools and hospitals. The extremists want to impose their law of intolerance and violence in cities like Mosul, which have a long tradition of respect among religions and ethnic groups.»

Acts of violence against American troops have intensified in northern Iraq in recent weeks.

«I do not know if there is any relation between those who attack the Americans and those who intimidate Christians,» Father Semaan said. «All I can say is that Wahabi extremists were present under the regime of Saddam Hussein, although they kept a low profile.

«Now they are coming into the open, expanding their activity and recruiting more members. The Wahabi receive solid financial backing from abroad and it is easy for them to find new members among the many unemployed youths.»

He added: «In this regard I would give an example of how money is used to spread an Islamic vision of society. When I was at Mosul University in the 1980s, girls wearing veils were about one in 40. Today we see the exact opposite: 40 veiled girls and one with a bare head! This is because fundamentalists pay girls to wear a veil.»

«Those who have in hand the destiny of Iraq must not allow anyone to put an end to the tradition of tolerance and peaceful coexistence among followers of different religions,» Father Semaan said. «We do not want Iraq to become another Lebanon.»

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